Our dogs are often our best friends. They love us unconditionally and provide us with affection, companionship, fun and joy. When it is time for them to die, the pain can be unbearable. Feelings such as anger, sadness, confusion and guilt may arise.
We may find ourselves experiencing uncertainty and question, “Is this the right time to put them down? Is it the right thing to do? How do I say goodbye? Should I be present when they take their last breath? What should I do with their remains?”
Unfortunately, in our society, the death of a pet is not recognized the same as a human, but can be just as devastating. Therefore, our grief needs to be honored for us to be able to heal. If you bottle up grief over putting a dog to sleep, it doesn’t just go away; it causes other challenges such as feelings of anxiety and depression as well as addiction and even physical illness. The following are tips to help you cope with your sadness of putting a dog to sleep:
- Recognize that you have experienced a major loss and be kind, gentle and patient with yourself. For example, allow yourself to take naps and soothing baths. Watch funny movies to uplift your spirits when feeling down. Go on leisurely walks in nature. If you are having a hard day, call in sick from work.
- Memorialize your loss by honoring your dog’s death and celebrating his or her life. Send out an announcement inviting family and close friends to participate in a ceremonial ritual. Create a collage of pictures to display at the ceremony. While you are gathered, share stories and memories about your dog. What attributes will he or she be remembered by? If you decide to cremate your dog, then scatter his or her ashes in a meaningful place as part of the ritual. If it feels too burdensome, ask someone else to officiate.
- Write a letter to your dog sharing how much he or she meant to you. When you feel ready, bury or burn the letter to help you let go.
- Journal to express your feelings on a daily basis. Start your journal entry with the prompt, “What I miss most about my dog is…”
- Develop a gratitude practice. List all of the things in your life you are grateful for. Spend time in meditation every morning and right before bed at night visualizing all of your blessings such as your health, family and friends who love you, your home, job, etc.
- If your sadness is causing you to feel stuck or keeping you from enjoying your life, then it may be time to join a support group or engage in individual grief counseling. For free support, check out the website for The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement: www.aplb.org
- Wait to get another pet companion until you are able to think about your deceased dog with fond memories, without feeling turmoil. You will want to be emotionally available to your new friend.
Sadness is a normal part of the grieving process and will diminish over time if you allow yourself to express it. During the process of grieving over putting a dog to sleep, you will have the opportunity to develop deeper love, wisdom and compassion.