On Monday 19th October 2020, I lost a great love. Upon the day’s beginning, my Staffordshire terrier Alma died in my arms, just 12 days after being diagnosed with cancer. And when she passed that morning, I truly thought that my heart had physically broken.
The loss of an animal to those of us who love them, is comparative to the loss of any other family member, and in many ways, it can be worse, as we come to rely on them as our truest and best friends. For me, Alma was a dog that sparked joy in everyone’s life. She was grateful, kind, sassy, loving, and so incredibly wise and mindful. Her character was one that we as humans spend our lives trying to acquire. And as I write this to you, I believe that many of you too may have lost a loved one, in the form of a pet. And if you find yourself struggling to cope, may I tell you; you are not alone.
Grief is such a complicated emotion, and certainly not one that is unique to human beings. It appears in many forms, lasts for various amounts of time and expresses itself in more ways than any other emotion I can think of. Grief ultimately, is the suffering of loss, and even though we all know that our pets and other loved ones cannot live forever, there is something within us, something unconscious, that hits us hard, even when we think we have come to terms with loss itself.
Whilst I may be an experienced and passionate animal behaviourist (including that of our own species), grief is a very personal journey. So, this is a story of advice that comes purely from my heart. Many people ask me how to cope with the loss of a pet, but due to its inherent subjective nature, it is difficult to give advice in a one-size-fits-all package. All I know is what has helped me with Alma’s death, and what has helped those who have been brave enough to ask me, when they have experienced that same emotional trauma.
This is what I work towards each day and I hope it helps!
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no expiration date for coping with loss and you are allowed to grieve for as long or as little as you want to.
- Talk to your dog. Even if they are not there beside you, it doesn’t mean that they are no longer a part of your heart or memories. It is perfectly healthy to still talk to them and about them whenever you feel you want to.
- Don’t take your dog for granted. This applies to the times when you are bothered by a naughty behaviour they may do. Our dogs do not live long enough, and it is worth knowing that when they are gone, that your time with them was as wonderful as it could possibly have been.
- Try to find the strength to carry on for your other pets. They will grieve too and it will be more difficult for them if they observe your struggles. Keep yourself busy with them and hold the memory of your lost pet close with you as you carry forward.
- Allow yourself time. There is nothing that eases the pain of loss better than the simplicity of time. And whilst the hurt never fully subsides, it dulls to a more tolerable level as time moves along.
- Take time to appreciate the simple things in life. Be more dog, I suppose. One of the many reasons why our dogs are so loved and missed is because of the strength of their character.
- Write a letter to your dog. I am not at this stage yet. There is so much I want to thank Alma for, but it is an activity that I am not quite strong enough to embark on. I do often think of all the things I want to thank her for, and when the time is right, I will write one of the longest love letters in history.
There may be something here that helps to ease your pain, and a strategy to help you move forward without losing the precious love and memories. In essence, be grateful for the short time you have with those you love. It will never be long enough, and all we are ever left with is our memories. Make them good ones and give yourself time to heal.