“I mean, it was just a dog.” “Now you can get a new one!” “It’s not like you lost an actual family member.” These are the types of statements people grieving the loss of a dog or cat have to put up with. Often mourners are made to feel as though their feelings over losing their dog are overblown or not justified.
This is simply untrue, and very unfair.
It’s important for everyone, whether you’ve lost an animal or you’ve never even had an animal of your own, to take the grief of others seriously and treat them appropriately. Every individual handles grief differently, just as every individual has different relationships with their dogs.
There are a few things each and every one of us, regardless of our own relationship with dogs and grief, can do when interacting with someone who has recently experienced that type of loss.
1. Avoid Saying The Wrong Things
Certain commonly used statements when it comes to loss are not only not helpful, but potentially harmful to a grieving pet parent. Trying to cheer someone up by reminding them they could always just “get a new dog” may sound positive, but it’s very dismissive. Anyone who has lived or worked with dogs knows they’re all their own individuals. No dog is replaceable. Similarly, getting a new dog does not cover up the hurt from losing one. Understand that it’s healthy to grieve and people need time to heal before they consider forming a new relationship and emotional bond with a different dog.
Another statement that may sound like cheering up but is actually hurtful is “at least it was just a dog.” Many people have very deep, emotional connections with their dogs. They consider their dogs to be part of the family. They exercise with them, snuggle with them at night, and take care of them. At the very least, people mourning dogs are losing a routine, and that in itself is difficult.
2. Acknowledge That Their Feelings Are Real
No, dogs and humans are not the same, but that doesn’t mean a person is wrong for being sad when they lose their furry family member. While losing a human family member is accompanied by ceremony, communal support, and days off of work, losing a dog does not go like this. We’re expected to go on as usual and often criticized for doing “too much” for our recently departed pups.
Consider how difficult it is for the grieving dog parent to feel profound sadness for their loss and also be told by a friend or society at large that they shouldn’t be so sad. There are no rules when it comes to grief. Some grieve for a long time, some for a short time. Either way, grief in this situation is healthy and normal. Never let anyone feel like they should be over their feelings faster. Let them feel how they feel.
3. Provide Them With Support, No Matter What
People coping with the loss of a dog don’t want to be told it’s going to be okay or that they’ll get over it. You can help them reminisce on the good times they had with their dogs or most importantly let them share. Be their shoulder to cry on and listen to their memories and feelings. That’s the most helpful thing you can do!
No matter how you feel about someone else’s loss or even how you’ve dealt with your own loss in the past, always remember that everyone grieves differently. Grieving is not a one-size-fits-all process. You can help with your support, your kind words, and your ears.
If you are currently suffering after losing a dog, know that there are resources out there for you! And feel free to share this article so others who may not understand can get a sense of what this loss really entails.