Time to Say Goodbye

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
The hardest part of owning a pet is when we realise our animals don't live forever. We live in such close proximity to our companions that pain felt by their loss is not only profound and sad, it can be utterly life changing. In my case, I've been fortunate to spend my life with a variety of marvellous pets and working dogs; unfortunately, this also means approximately ten animals have come and gone throughout the years. 

Animal grief is another taboo topic I wish to address this week, for it's an extremely difficult period for animal lovers. People who grieve their pets often feel emotionally alone and sometimes disconnected from the rest of their entourage, especially if their family and friends are not pet lovers. Spouses, children, co-workers, and parents who don't share an emotional link with animals will often dismiss pet grief as an actual bereavement process.
  
Shameful Pet Loss
People who grieve the loss of an animal can feel sad and lost, and without support from their environment, these same people cry and scream in secrecy as they process their pain. Some people will be subject to expressions such as Don't cry, it's just a cat, Why don't you just get another dog, or my favourite You should be happy, you can now do what you want, when you want. Certain people are so ashamed of their emotions, they hide how they actually feel.
 
There's no shame in feeling isolation, loss, sadness, confusion, anger, or uncertainty when you grieve the loss of a beloved pet. Each person has a right to process difficult emotions and should feel comfortable to ask for support, especially from family and friends. So, how do we create empathy where there's very little to none? How can a person accept your pain as real and support you through the grieving process? If colleagues don't believe there's an emotional connection, how can they address the sadness you feel? Unfortunately, the answer is it's very difficult, not to say impossible, till they have felt an emotional connection themselves.
 
Where to Turn
Pet loss is as real as it gets and if you feel alone, sad, or confused here are a few tips.
1. Bereavement is OK. You're allowed to be sad and angry.
2. Grief comes in many shapes and forms.
3. There is no norm when it comes to rituals associated with pet loss.
4. Make sure you say goodbye any way you feel appropriate. 
5. If you have other pets, make sure you're aware of their emotional state.
6. Wait till you've processed your emotions before you get another companion.
7. When ready, get a different breed of pet, it helps with closure.
 
Many of our clients have turned to us for help when they lost their companion; as such, we strongly encourage trainers and behaviour specialists to have a list of resources handy for these difficult times. Remember, people need to talk about their pets and feel they have been heard. Finally, if everybody could accept that loosing an animal is in fact painful, we would become a better society, because acceptance is the first step towards healing emotions.
 
Pet Loss Canada is a web site where you will find the following links:

  • Goodbye and Beyond: A Workbook For Those Enduring the Loss of a Companion Animal pdf booklet
  • When Your Pet Has Died - Alan Wolfelt
  • You will  always be a part of me - Timothy O’Brien -  www.petlossgriefguide.com
  • Is It Time to Say Goodbye - Timothy O’Brien -  www.petlossgriefguide.com
  • Pet Loss and Human Emotion - Cheri Barton Ross & Jane Sorenson
  • When Your Pet Dies - Christine Adamec
  • Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of a Pet - M. Anderson
  • Grieving the Death of a Pet - Betty J. Carmack
  • The Human-Animal Bond and Grief - Laurel S. Lagoni
  • Diary of a Very Special Love - Martin S. Kosins
  • Good-Bye My Friend: Grieving the Loss of a Pet - Herb & Mary Montgomery
  • A Snowflake in My Hand - Samantha Mooney
  • Animals Make Us Human - Temple Grandin
  • Resilience - Elizabeth Edwards (NB: Paperback is written to current time)

7 comments

  • John

    John Tennessee

    2 of my younger dogs attacked and killed my senior dog on Friday and I am beyond heartbroken. I feel like I failed my dog letting him die like that. The guilt is unbearable. I loved him as much as I love my own kids and now I'm distraught beyond wprds.

    2 of my younger dogs attacked and killed my senior dog on Friday and I am beyond heartbroken. I feel like I failed my dog letting him die like that. The guilt is unbearable. I loved him as much as I love my own kids and now I'm distraught beyond wprds.

  • Joti

    Joti Los Angeles

    I can empathize with John. I am struggling with so much guilt especially because we have decided, only too late, that our pitbull would be better in a home where he is the only animal. The pain in unreal. I feel like I didnt protect my little one and I am failing my pitbull. How does one come to terms with this?

    I can empathize with John. I am struggling with so much guilt especially because we have decided, only too late, that our pitbull would be better in a home where he is the only animal. The pain in unreal. I feel like I didnt protect my little one and I am failing my pitbull. How does one come to terms with this?

  • Dogue Shop

    Dogue Shop

    There are no simple solutions to the morning process. All we can do is simply accept that we cannot change the past, and that did what we thought was the best at that time. We overcome loss with forgiveness, patience, and time.

    There are no simple solutions to the morning process. All we can do is simply accept that we cannot change the past, and that did what we thought was the best at that time. We overcome loss with forgiveness, patience, and time.

  • Steph

    Steph College station, TX

    Hi all, Yesterday I witnessed my 6 year old chihuahua/dauschaund suffer a very traumatic attack and death by out 1 year old German shepherd mix who was previously her best friend - they chased each other around playfully all the time. When the attack began, 4 other of my large dogs jumped in.....they wouldn’t let go no matter what I did. I know dogs get pack mentality, but my problem is the fact that the same dog continuously starts these fights. This is not the shepherds first attack of another animal - she has attacked my other blue heeler twice, my cat once a couple weeks ago - trying to kill him, but he’s been around since long before her & they’ve never had problems, and then yesterday, it was one of the worst dog attack’s my vet has ever seen. I run a dog rescue (very small, trying to work my way up there) and I work at a vet clinic. I have a great mentor who has been successfully running a non-profit dog rescue & I will be visiting with her dog behaviorist tomorrow. I have no idea what to do. This is my little brothers dog that we made a commitment to keep (she’s not just one of the dogs that we were going to rehome), but this is not her first attack - and it’s the second one that I’ve had to deal with all alone because my family was out of town. The one toward my cat put me in the hospital for 3 days because the cat feared so badly for his life that he latched on to me and would not let go - he has never done that before, ever, he always plays with the dogs. My problem is this German shepherd has now attacked 3-4 times while just “playing”. She is very friendly to every dog she meets, she is not food aggressive, but we learned long ago that she does not share toys/bones, so we keep all those put up. Yesterday I believe she found a stick in the yard, dropped it in front of my chihuahua and perceived her as a threat, but the chihuahua has never played with a toy in her life. Anyway, I am really struggling with deciding what to do - do I rehome her or do I work with a dog that I committed to? I watched her drag my helpless dog all across my room, I tried to pry her jaw open, I tried to shield the chihuahua with my body - I know, all things I shouldn’t do. Anyway, I don’t know if I could ever get the whole thing out of my head. It was very, very gruesome. I’m at a loss of how to handle this.

    Hi all,
    Yesterday I witnessed my 6 year old chihuahua/dauschaund suffer a very traumatic attack and death by out 1 year old German shepherd mix who was previously her best friend - they chased each other around playfully all the time. When the attack began, 4 other of my large dogs jumped in.....they wouldn’t let go no matter what I did. I know dogs get pack mentality, but my problem is the fact that the same dog continuously starts these fights. This is not the shepherds first attack of another animal - she has attacked my other blue heeler twice, my cat once a couple weeks ago - trying to kill him, but he’s been around since long before her & they’ve never had problems, and then yesterday, it was one of the worst dog attack’s my vet has ever seen. I run a dog rescue (very small, trying to work my way up there) and I work at a vet clinic. I have a great mentor who has been successfully running a non-profit dog rescue & I will be visiting with her dog behaviorist tomorrow. I have no idea what to do. This is my little brothers dog that we made a commitment to keep (she’s not just one of the dogs that we were going to rehome), but this is not her first attack - and it’s the second one that I’ve had to deal with all alone because my family was out of town. The one toward my cat put me in the hospital for 3 days because the cat feared so badly for his life that he latched on to me and would not let go - he has never done that before, ever, he always plays with the dogs. My problem is this German shepherd has now attacked 3-4 times while just “playing”. She is very friendly to every dog she meets, she is not food aggressive, but we learned long ago that she does not share toys/bones, so we keep all those put up. Yesterday I believe she found a stick in the yard, dropped it in front of my chihuahua and perceived her as a threat, but the chihuahua has never played with a toy in her life. Anyway, I am really struggling with deciding what to do - do I rehome her or do I work with a dog that I committed to? I watched her drag my helpless dog all across my room, I tried to pry her jaw open, I tried to shield the chihuahua with my body - I know, all things I shouldn’t do. Anyway, I don’t know if I could ever get the whole thing out of my head. It was very, very gruesome. I’m at a loss of how to handle this.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous Bastrop, Texas

    My 18 month half husky and German Shepherd attacked and killed my older Bashaun (misspelled). We treated him differently because he was smaller and we also had moved into an RV and then a house. Our first day of living in the house my older little dog went next to my big pup and started to eat. Out of no where, she had him by the neck and was shaking him back and forth. We immediately took him to the vet. During surgery he died because the damage was to deep. It took 3 of us to get her off of him. I have tried to get behavoriolist out here but none do my area. So I've been educating myself and see where I've gone wrong. At first we kept a muzzle on her all the time and gradually started to remove it. She shows no threat to the cat or other dogs. But now, I dont allow certain behaviors that were there before. I remind her that I'm alpha by making her sit until, I say so...if she is misbehaving. I'm seeing a lot of positive changes going on. We always put our dogs in the kitchen when we have company. We do this because it overwhelms some people to have 4 big dogs around them. Now my daughter wants the muzzle on Sadie, even though she is put away in the kitchen. She worries about my grandchildren/her children. She also, does not like dogs. This is hard because she is doing so well now. I still grieve over loosing my older little dog because I took him when my mom passed away. I feel like I let her down. Then to have a loveable dog turn on our other dog makes you feel as though you have failed them in some way. Now my daughter is insisting on the muzzle, which I understand from her perspective. I'm just wondering if the puppy would be better off in another home. My husband thinks not. This is a very hard decision for me. I love her so much and have bonded with her. Not sure what to do.

    My 18 month half husky and German Shepherd attacked and killed my older Bashaun (misspelled). We treated him differently because he was smaller and we also had moved into an RV and then a house. Our first day of living in the house my older little dog went next to my big pup and started to eat. Out of no where, she had him by the neck and was shaking him back and forth. We immediately took him to the vet. During surgery he died because the damage was to deep. It took 3 of us to get her off of him. I have tried to get behavoriolist out here but none do my area. So I've been educating myself and see where I've gone wrong. At first we kept a muzzle on her all the time and gradually started to remove it. She shows no threat to the cat or other dogs. But now, I dont allow certain behaviors that were there before. I remind her that I'm alpha by making her sit until, I say so...if she is misbehaving. I'm seeing a lot of positive changes going on. We always put our dogs in the kitchen when we have company. We do this because it overwhelms some people to have 4 big dogs around them. Now my daughter wants the muzzle on Sadie, even though she is put away in the kitchen. She worries about my grandchildren/her children. She also, does not like dogs. This is hard because she is doing so well now. I still grieve over loosing my older little dog because I took him when my mom passed away. I feel like I let her down. Then to have a loveable dog turn on our other dog makes you feel as though you have failed them in some way. Now my daughter is insisting on the muzzle, which I understand from her perspective. I'm just wondering if the puppy would be better off in another home. My husband thinks not. This is a very hard decision for me. I love her so much and have bonded with her. Not sure what to do.

  • Lisa

    Lisa Ohio

    Two days ago I had a rough emotional day and out of frustration I just screamed, not at anyone, just to get it out. Worst thing I’ve done in my life. My mom started screaming I turned around and my 4 year old German shepard had my 10 yr old pin Pom in her mouth. I did everything I could to get her out, my hands were in her mouth with Nala trying to pry them open, screaming, and punching her, when she finally let go I scooped her up but she died in my arms to the vet. My neighbor realized I was also bit in several places and bleeding and everyone telling me I need a dr I didn’t care I lost my baby girl and I can’t get the image of the vicious attack out of my mind and it’s making blame myself for screaming. That’s when she turned and she was in heat. The guilt I feel is enormous and unbearable, can’t sleep, eat or function. I was her protector and I let her down. I can’t get out of my head. They bickered but my lil nala would stand her ground and Athena would stop. Thought it was all play but not on that day, it was like trying to stop the devil. Haven’t been able to go back in my house and it took place in my bedroom. I have so many feelings towards Athena (gs) love, pissed, scared,hatred. But I don’t see my life without her. Yet I have 4 cats and another 15 year old dog I feel I need to protect. My fur babies are my life and my life revolves around them and their needs. I don’t know what to do, why didn’t she just come after me instead of Nala. My guilt is killing me. I need help!! I need my Nala back! Someone help me PLEASE

    Two days ago I had a rough emotional day and out of frustration I just screamed, not at anyone, just to get it out. Worst thing I’ve done in my life. My mom started screaming I turned around and my 4 year old German shepard had my 10 yr old pin Pom in her mouth. I did everything I could to get her out, my hands were in her mouth with Nala trying to pry them open, screaming, and punching her, when she finally let go I scooped her up but she died in my arms to the vet. My neighbor realized I was also bit in several places and bleeding and everyone telling me I need a dr I didn’t care I lost my baby girl and I can’t get the image of the vicious attack out of my mind and it’s making blame myself for screaming. That’s when she turned and she was in heat. The guilt I feel is enormous and unbearable, can’t sleep, eat or function. I was her protector and I let her down. I can’t get out of my head. They bickered but my lil nala would stand her ground and Athena would stop. Thought it was all play but not on that day, it was like trying to stop the devil. Haven’t been able to go back in my house and it took place in my bedroom. I have so many feelings towards Athena (gs) love, pissed, scared,hatred. But I don’t see my life without her. Yet I have 4 cats and another 15 year old dog I feel I need to protect. My fur babies are my life and my life revolves around them and their needs. I don’t know what to do, why didn’t she just come after me instead of Nala. My guilt is killing me. I need help!! I need my Nala back! Someone help me PLEASE

  • Jennifer

    Jennifer Creswell, OR

    Im writing this with a very heavy heart. I have a beautiful, intelligent dog named Sara. She's a mix of Rott/border collie/Aussie that I got when she was very young. 5 weeks. Shes now 10 months old. The litter was abandoned by mom at 3 wks bc the mother's owner moved to WA and left the puppies with the owner's mom. She raised them with love and care, but still wasn't a sub for their pup mom. Sara is a typical dog. We had 3 chickens when she first came to us. She herded them so much, they would end up high on their perches and never come down to eat. But we noticed when they came down, she would see it from inside the house and run out after them and several times she grabbed hold of them between their wing and neck and started shaking them. Before one ended up dead, we gave the chickens away. We have a 13yr old cat, a 5-yr old cat and an elderly Shih tzu, Tito, we rescued a couple years ago; they all live with Sara. Before Sara and even before Tito, we had a Rott/Aussie dog (Sam) and the older cat was Alfa. That cat ruled everyone. Lol. Sam was fine with it. Then we got Tito and he put the cat in his place demanding to be Alfa. The cat gave in and all was harmonious. Then Sam died of old age. That left Tito and the cats. Tito is so funny. He acts tough, he's kind of a grump on the surface, but so sweet and loving when u got to know him. Tito has bad skin, real oily, one bad eye, and is deaf. He's a feisty little old man who was always Alfa, but then Sara got bigger. Sara became big enough and demanded she be alfa. Tito hasn't given up Alfa without a fight. Tito growls and grumbles at Sara. Sara won't take it and has attacked and shaken Tito and the older cat several times. But the grumbling and fighting is always over food. We keep her food bowl full all the time. We generously give treats and peanut butter, etc, but she is still really weird about it. When a possibility of treats appear, she will attack the other animal if they even look like they might get a treat before her. She loves all people, never gets aggressive at people, actually we are Alfa to her. Only time she's aggressive is to a smaller animal, over food. When it's playtime, she loves to play with the cats. She acts like a kitten, so cute to watch. The cats gets tired of her bc she's bigger and she doesn't know when playtime is over so we intervene...A LOT. Someone is always with her at home and she's mainly an inside dog. She LOVES FETCH. Brings it back Everytime -any toy. She catches balls, frisbees, and toys mid-air. She's very loving toward people, especially her family, but not to "Tito", bc Tito doesn't want to play and lets her know with his grumpy growls. Tito acts tough, but he gets scared easy and is super tight with my husband, they're always together. Tito is kenneled if they're left unsupervised. Here's the horror part of the story. 4 days ago, Sara attacked and killed Tito in a split second. There was only the future possibility of a small tidbit from my dinner plate, no food was even offered yet. I had just sat down to eat. Sara was sitting in front of me, waiting patiently. Tito smelled food and started meandering over to us. I never heard a warning, didn't see them close to each other, but all of a sudden she had Tito in her teeth shaking him, then got him pinned down with her paws (she uses her arms and paws like a human) and she got his belly, and we yanked Sara off him, Tito was crying and running...he normally goes straight to us. He left a thick streaming blood trail. She had to have gotten a main artery! it was horrible! He tried going away, under our bed in the back room. We think he knew he was dying. He lost all bowel control in the fight and more later. We saw intestines hanging down from his belly. We rushed to the ER VET but he was in shock, cold, shaking uncontrollably and very labored breathing. We didn't think the vet could save him. He didn't make it to the vet before passing. We are devastated. I can't look at Sara anymore. I'm still in shock. I can't risk another of my animals. I either need to find a rescue willing to work with food aggression, or figure out how to train her in the food aggression area. We are grieving not only the loss of Sam in January, but now Tito, and him dying in such a horrid way. I am at a loss. A no kill shelter told me they will not take her. Her aggression level is a 10 they said. They also said they would put her down. I can't do that, but there is also risk of liability of she ever got out and hurt another little animal, or my cats. I don't know what to do.

    Im writing this with a very heavy heart. I have a beautiful, intelligent dog named Sara. She's a mix of Rott/border collie/Aussie that I got when she was very young. 5 weeks. Shes now 10 months old. The litter was abandoned by mom at 3 wks bc the mother's owner moved to WA and left the puppies with the owner's mom. She raised them with love and care, but still wasn't a sub for their pup mom.
    Sara is a typical dog. We had 3 chickens when she first came to us. She herded them so much, they would end up high on their perches and never come down to eat. But we noticed when they came down, she would see it from inside the house and run out after them and several times she grabbed hold of them between their wing and neck and started shaking them. Before one ended up dead, we gave the chickens away.
    We have a 13yr old cat, a 5-yr old cat and an elderly Shih tzu, Tito, we rescued a couple years ago; they all live with Sara. Before Sara and even before Tito, we had a Rott/Aussie dog (Sam) and the older cat was Alfa. That cat ruled everyone. Lol. Sam was fine with it. Then we got Tito and he put the cat in his place demanding to be Alfa. The cat gave in and all was harmonious. Then Sam died of old age. That left Tito and the cats. Tito is so funny. He acts tough, he's kind of a grump on the surface, but so sweet and loving when u got to know him. Tito has bad skin, real oily, one bad eye, and is deaf. He's a feisty little old man who was always Alfa, but then Sara got bigger. Sara became big enough and demanded she be alfa. Tito hasn't given up Alfa without a fight.
    Tito growls and grumbles at Sara. Sara won't take it and has attacked and shaken Tito and the older cat several times. But the grumbling and fighting is always over food. We keep her food bowl full all the time. We generously give treats and peanut butter, etc, but she is still really weird about it. When a possibility of treats appear, she will attack the other animal if they even look like they might get a treat before her. She loves all people, never gets aggressive at people, actually we are Alfa to her. Only time she's aggressive is to a smaller animal, over food.
    When it's playtime, she loves to play with the cats. She acts like a kitten, so cute to watch. The cats gets tired of her bc she's bigger and she doesn't know when playtime is over so we intervene...A LOT. Someone is always with her at home and she's mainly an inside dog. She LOVES FETCH. Brings it back Everytime -any toy. She catches balls, frisbees, and toys mid-air. She's very loving toward people, especially her family, but not to "Tito", bc Tito doesn't want to play and lets her know with his grumpy growls. Tito acts tough, but he gets scared easy and is super tight with my husband, they're always together. Tito is kenneled if they're left unsupervised.
    Here's the horror part of the story. 4 days ago, Sara attacked and killed Tito in a split second. There was only the future possibility of a small tidbit from my dinner plate, no food was even offered yet. I had just sat down to eat. Sara was sitting in front of me, waiting patiently. Tito smelled food and started meandering over to us. I never heard a warning, didn't see them close to each other, but all of a sudden she had Tito in her teeth shaking him, then got him pinned down with her paws (she uses her arms and paws like a human) and she got his belly, and we yanked Sara off him, Tito was crying and running...he normally goes straight to us. He left a thick streaming blood trail. She had to have gotten a main artery! it was horrible! He tried going away, under our bed in the back room. We think he knew he was dying. He lost all bowel control in the fight and more later. We saw intestines hanging down from his belly.
    We rushed to the ER VET but he was in shock, cold, shaking uncontrollably and very labored breathing. We didn't think the vet could save him. He didn't make it to the vet before passing. We are devastated. I can't look at Sara anymore. I'm still in shock. I can't risk another of my animals. I either need to find a rescue willing to work with food aggression, or figure out how to train her in the food aggression area. We are grieving not only the loss of Sam in January, but now Tito, and him dying in such a horrid way. I am at a loss. A no kill shelter told me they will not take her. Her aggression level is a 10 they said. They also said they would put her down. I can't do that, but there is also risk of liability of she ever got out and hurt another little animal, or my cats. I don't know what to do.

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