A Dog’s Eye View: When it comes to grief, everyone’s different
August 15, 2013
Steamboat Springs — I met a friend who shared with me that her beloved dog had just passed away. He was 12 years old and had lived well past what was expected for him because of having a serious health problem for years. She and her husband obviously had cared deeply for him and had taken scrupulous pains to see that he had the best life possible. They loved him through to the end.
It had been a very short time since she lost her dog. She described how empty it felt to get up in the morning and find him gone. She and her husband have shared their entire life together with him as their companion and friend. She felt so lonely that she wanted to get another dog of the same breed right away. Her husband thought it might be better to wait.
I can't say that I'm amazed at people's love for and commitment to their pets, but I'm always deeply and profoundly touched by the powerful connections people have with their dogs. Just standing and talking with my friend left me with an aching heaviness inside as she described her loss. But I also felt a sense of fullness as she described the beautiful life she shared with him. Her grief was palpable.
This is a situation that as consultants and dog owners ourselves, we are faced with time and again. Which is better? Get a dog right away? Choose the same breed? Wait a while and try to recover a bit from the emotional trauma? The truth is, there's not one right answer. Everyone is different. Everyone experiences grief in their own way.
I knew a family who lost a dog in her old age, and they described her as a saint. She was perfect in their eyes. They chose to get another dog of the same breed right away. In this instance, the new dog had an entirely different temperament than that of the dog they had lost. Life was difficult for them for a while because their expectations were not met, but ultimately, they came to love the new dog. This decision was not right or wrong, just a difficult transition to the needs and personality of the new dog.
Just this week, my husband, Ron, and I were reminiscing about our Irish terrier, Finn, that we had many years ago. We both loved him, but Ron had a special bond with him. Ron would whistle for Finn to get up in the night and drive to our veterinary clinic on emergency calls. Finn liked riding shotgun. Ron said he would love to have another Irish terrier some day, but ultimately, we agreed that there never could be another Finn, and it'd be as well to just cherish the memory of him. This decision is right for our family.
I've known families who waited quite a while to get another dog — some who've gotten one right away, some who've chosen another breed or adopted a shelter dog. I've known some who've had the same breed over and over for their entire lives and have enjoyed every one.
In the end, I like to counsel families who are experiencing grief by telling them about a nun who worked with the families of terminally ill cancer patients. She encouraged them "to grieve as well as they have loved."
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than 25 years of experience.