My dog died and my heart is broken – 10 years later I still miss his presence.
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The loss of a loved one can be an indescribable time in your life. All those moments you shared together are both a comfort and a source of sadness as you face what the future holds.
If you are an animal lover, you know that these words are just as true for a beloved animal as they are for the people in our lives.
In some ways, as I learned with my dog Bandit, losing a pet can feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself.
I’ve always been an animal lover, although my friends and family would tell you – and I admit it – I’ve been more of a “cat person” than a “dog person.”
But of all the animals I’ve had the privilege of loving, my dog Bandit will always hold a special place in my heart and memories.
I wasn’t looking for a dog when Bandit came into my life.
I was working in a veterinary hospital and a colleague brought him in. Her friends had given the family a puppy, not realizing that Bandit (a rottweiler/chow mix) would grow into quite a big boy.
I saw him in the kennel, his big puppy eyes staring at me, his feet too big for his body, and I knew he would come home with me.
Bandit was a happy dog. He was laid back and casual. I never heard him bark, but for once he was protecting me on a walk in the park when a pack of dogs ran loose.
He was always content, even if the cat was in his bed, daring him to come and try to take him back. Despite his size, he never intruded.
Bandit was my shadow, and when I went through a deep depression he was my faithful companion, exploring mountains, lakes and caves with me while I was lost in thought.
He was the best friend I could have ever asked for.
As my living conditions changed, I had to leave Bandit for some time while I moved. One evening I got a call that he was not well. He was older then, his muzzle was silver and he walked slowly, and I ran back to fetch him.
That night Bandit died sleeping next to me. I know without a doubt that he was waiting for me to come get him.
Ten years later I still miss him. I miss his cheerful expressions, his calm contemplation.
I have lost both pets and people in life, and one is no bigger than the other. Sadness is sadness.
Loss and Grief of Pets
How close you feel to a person or pet adds to the level of grief you feel at their loss.
For many people, pets are elevated to the status of family members – sometimes they are the only family members you may have.
There is no right or wrong way to feel sadness. It is an individual process and only you can fully understand the depth of the bond you had with your pet.
To me Bandit was more than a dog. He could look at me and know when I needed him. He could tell me, without words, that he was there for me.
He treated me better than some people have treated me. It’s no surprise to me that my grieving process was similar to that of others I’ve been through for family and friends.
broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome is a real medical condition.
It is also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and it can affect anyone of any health status.
Broken heart syndrome occurs as a result of an intense surge of stress hormones related to an emotional event – including the death of a pet.
This extreme stress response can mimic heart attack symptoms and may include:
- shortness of breath
- abnormal heartbeats
In some cases,
For me, losing Bandit was like losing my best friend plus a piece of myself† With his passing, something indescribable disappeared.
While human friends and family can offer loyalty, love and camaraderie, with Bandit there were no conditions, no measures.
He didn’t get mad at me for miscommunication. He didn’t judge my choices. He didn’t set me standards that I had to meet. He was just happy to be with me, my flaws and all.
It’s a level of acceptance that many people have found only in the company of animals, and it’s one of the reasons losing a dog can hurt more than losing a human.
How long does it take to grieve a pet?
There is no “right” amount of time to grieve a pet.
You may also not experience clearly defined stages of grief, such as denial, anger, or bargaining.
Your process is unique to you. It may have to do with the attachment you felt to your pet, your current circumstances, and how you deal with loss in general.
But if you don’t progress through grief, if it feels like it isn’t improving or is getting worse, you may be experiencing complicated grief.
Complicated grief is a mental health condition defined by persistent, useless thoughts and grieving behaviors. It’s sadness that doesn’t go away over time.
How do you accept the death of your dog?
You can be sad about your dog. It’s a natural emotion, and research shows that pet owners often grieve for pets on the same level as human companions.
To help you accept the loss of your dog, you can try the same methods that can help with the loss of a person:
- expressing what you feel by talking, journaling, creating art or composing
- honor your pet with a memorial, donation or charitable effort
- take care of yourself by eating well and getting enough sleep
- visiting others who care about you
- join support networks
- looking for help with grief processing
- find outlets, such as fitness classes or hobbies
When is the Right Time to Get a New Dog After Your Dog Has Died?
Knowing when you’re ready for a new dog can be a challenge.
Hasty decisions can lead to unhappy human-animal partnerships or even trigger a type of regret known as the new puppy blues.
Ultimately, the thought of providing a new dog with a loving home should be a source of joy, even if you still miss the deceased pet.
If you can’t be around dogs without feeling overwhelming sadness, continue to unfairly compare new dogs to your old dog, or hate new dogs, you may not be ready.
A new dog deserves to be loved and appreciated for its individuality. They are not a replacement or a lesser version of your previous dog.
You know you’re ready to adopt when the space in your heart for your old dog can share the space with the love of a new dog.
If your previous dog was a huge source of emotional support in your life, you might want to talk to someone about emotional support animals and whether one might be right for you.
One of life’s well-known tragedies is that most of us will outlive our animal companions.
Loving a dog is powerful, but to be loved by a dog is something that touches the human heart in a way that is often absent in other parts of life.
If your dog has passed away and you’re heartbroken, that’s okay. You have suffered a great loss and it is normal to grieve.
Allow yourself to experience the emotions. If you feel like you’re stuck, you can help yourself by finding ways to memorialize your pet, honor their memory, and express your emotions.
Bandit was a happy, loving dog and I know he wouldn’t have wanted his passing to hurt me.
I honor him today by loving more dogs — and cats — and providing them with a fulfilling, joyful life of their own.