If you feel like you can’t go on living without your dog, you are not alone. Your heart is broken into pieces, and all your broken pieces are welcome here. Join us as we say goodbye to our beloved furry friends and animal companions. You will find comfort, strength and encouragement as you read through these ideas and insights on how to live without your dog.
“I have no family, I’m divorced, no friends, am very depressed, and my dog is the only friend I know,” says Jeff on Comforting Prayers for the Loss of a Dog. “She needs to go to heaven but what about me after this is over? Who can be with me to do this, are there any organizations to help? I don’t think have the courage to do this alone and I fear for myself when it’s over.”
Living without your dog different – and some say more difficult – than coping with the death of a human loved one. Why? Because as George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” Your beloved dog was always there for you, unconditionally loving, listening, and passing no judgment on anything you said or did. And when you touched, petted or groomed your dog you were flooded with feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin and endorphins. So was your dog! And that’s why learning how to live without your dog is so painful.
“Time always brings eventual relief from the pain and your life will return to normal,” writes Gary Kurz in Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates: A Book of Hope for Those Who Have Lost a Pet. “There will be a time when you feel guilty for feeling better, but event hat will pass. Nothing will ever take away the sense of absence, but the disabling and relentless grief will subside and eventually disappear. I know it may not seem that way now, but…it has proven true every time.”
Time helps. And in the meantime, here are a few practical tips for living without your dog.
How Are You Living Without Your Dog?
“Grieving the loss of a pet encompasses all the same elements as grieving the loss of anything else,” writes Dr Lisa Lembeck Roberts in The Anatomy of Grief: Processing the Loss of a Pet. “There may be different intensity levels, but the process is similar. It’s important to remember that each individual’s way of processing grief is as personal as the individual herself – so not matter what you are feeling, rest assured it is normal to be feeling it.”
You are normal. It is normal and healthy to feel sad after your dog dies. You are grieving a major loss in your life, and the feeling that you can’t live without your dog is not abnormal or crazy.
1. For the first few weeks, avoid visible reminders of your dog
Though it helps some people to keep their dog’s collar and tags, it may be too sad for you. People mourn, recover, and remember in different ways.
Here’s what pet bereavement counselor Wallace Sife writes in The Loss of a Pet: “Get rid of your pet’s toys and other things…they are mostly painful, and not good for you at this time. If you can’t throw them out yet, put them out of sight in a drawer or a box in a closet or basement. The real memory is in your heart.”
Seeing your pet’s collars, leashes, dishes, and beds in their usual places may make it harder to heal. Maybe one day you’ll donate them to friends or an animal shelter, or use them for a new pet. But for now, it may be best to put them out of sight.
2. Consider finding other furry friends to love and care for
Do you live alone and feel like you have no friends, family, or neighbors to lean on? You might think about getting another pet.
“My responses to each of my pet’s deaths differed in duration and intensity, depending on how quickly the end came, how much we suffered during their decline, and how many other pets I had,” says Sid Korpi, author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss. “The silence of the house when our dog Ludwig died was deafening because we had no other dogs at the time. It was tougher than when Mortimer left us, because we had our two Westie girls, Blanche and Keely. I didn’t love or miss Mortimer less intensely, but I was forced to pull myself out of my pain when the girls needed me. They reminded me life has to go on whether we’d like to wallow in the past or not. I’d feed them with tears rolling down my cheeks.”
3. Give yourself new reasons to get out of the house
“One of the basic human satisfactions is the feeling of being needed, and attending to an animal gives many people a daily sense of being useful,” writes Gary Kowalski in Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet. “It is important to know you make a difference, at least to one appreciative creature. For some people, losing a pet can mean losing a sense of purpose.”
However, before you can contribute and feel useful – and before you feel ready to live without your dog – you may need to grieve. How do you say goodbye to a dog you’re afraid of living without? It depends on you, your personality and perspective. Some people find prayers and the presence of God comforting. Other people need a practical role or focus that helps them walk through their dog’s death. If you are having trouble grieving and letting go, consider a pet memorial service to say goodbye to your dog in a more formal way.
4. Learn the difference between “passive grieving” and “active grieving”
Choosing to actively grieve loss and death will help you learn how to live without your dog.
When you passively grieve your dog’s death, you:
- Ignore the pain and hope it goes away
- Suppress or push away feelings of grief, pain, anger, and loneliness
- Focus on the loss of your dog or cat
- Allow your sad emotions to dictate your thoughts and actions
- Replay the images of your dog’s last day or hours
- Refuse to work through tips on how to cope with your dog’s death
Passively grieving the death of your dog seems easier and safer because it means you don’t have to face the painful emotions. But, not actively grieving your dog’s death leads to worse – and prolonged – pain. Passive grieving does not help you learn how to live without your dog.
Avoiding your grief doesn’t help you heal your heart and make room for a new dog in your life. It shuts you down and stops you from coping with your dog’s death in healthy ways.
Actively grieving your dog’s death, on the other hand, involves:
- Allowing your painful emotions to rise up, even though it feels unbearable
- Expressing your sadness, bitterness, pain, and loneliness
- Exploring different ways to memorialize or honor your dog
- Talking to animal lovers who coped with the death of their own beloved dogs
- Trying different tips for coping with dog death, focusing on which are most helpful
Coping with your dog’s death in active ways is more difficult in the short run but much healthier in the long run. And, active grieving will help you get ready to invite another dog or cat into your life.
5. Know that this, too, shall pass
Do you think your life is meaningless and empty without your dog? Allow yourself to feel empty, sad, and lonely. Try not to fight or suppress how you truly feel. Fighting your feelings only makes them worse. It hurts to let grieve and pain sweep through you, but feeling the pain is the only way to learn how to live without your dog. You may feel like you’re going crazy, but your feelings will pass. And they will become less intense with time.
Friar Jack Wintz has been pondering animals and pets in Heaven for years, and he is convinced that God’s loving relationship with creation includes the afterlife. “Our God is a God of overflowing love, goodness, and beauty who is ready to give over everything to those he loves,” says Friar Jack. “Surely the Creator would not suddenly stop loving and caring for the creatures he had put into existence with so much care!”
In I Will See You in Heaven, Friar Jack Wintz describes how God has always taken care of His beloved animals – from the Garden of Eden to Noah and the Ark! In this book, you’ll find wisdom, comfort, and the reassuring hope that we will see our cats and dogs and other animals in heaven.
Friar Jack has been pondering animals and pets in Heaven for years, and he is convinced that God’s loving relationship with creation includes the afterlife. “Our God is a God of overflowing love, goodness, and beauty who is ready to give over everything to those he loves,” he says. “Surely the Creator would not suddenly stop loving and caring for the creatures he had put into existence with so much care!”
“If there is a heaven, it’s certain our animals are to be there,” says Pam Brown. “Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them.”
Is your dog still with us, but not well? Read 6 Signs It’s Time to Put Your Dog to Sleep – A Vet’s Advice.