We All Miss Them When They’re Gone

By Rachel Brix, BSEd, CPDT-KA, FFCP (Trainer)

We all fear the inevitable: the day we know will come when we have to say goodbye to our beloved pet dog. After all, they’ve been our friends, our exercise buddies, our confidants, our mood-boosters, our allies, our friends. We’ve spent years of our lives with them; they’ve shared our happiest moments, our lowest lows and everything in between.

It’s hard to imagine not sharing the couch, the bed, a bowl of popcorn or an ice cream cone with them anymore. Not shopping for their birthdays, baking them treats, taking them for long walks and playing fetch in the yard. Going to the lake without them, on hikes without them and even on vacation without them doesn’t seem doable much less very much fun.

We’d give anything for them to yank our arm out of its socket chasing a squirrel just one last time. We swear we wouldn’t mind them pulling the pie off the counter and eating it whole and would care less if they dug up all the flowers and ran muddy through the house just to have a little more time. One more day. Preparing for this void is never easy, and no matter how we prepare ourselves we’re never quite ready.

But at least we usually have time to get mentally ready. To steel ourselves against what’s coming. To get our mind wrapped around the fact of the permanence of our decision and understand the impacts it will have and the emptiness we’ll feel in our hearts. Sort of. But we have friends and significant others and social media and support groups and diversions like TV and hobbies and work.

Our other pets though, those who will experience the void alongside you, cannot prepare. They’re not privy to the arrangements, don’t know when it will happen, and can’t brace themselves for the void they’ll experience at the loss of their friend. The loss of their companion who’s most likely been with them a long time for everything in life. They’ve eaten, slept, played, begged food and attention, chased deer, cuddled, occasionally skirmished, vacationed, swam, got dirty, got baths, and aged with their friend who will suddenly and inexplicably just be…missing. Gone. There one minute, not there the next.

I’ve seen many dogs beside themselves with grief looking for their friend. Searching, sometimes frantically, for their friend. Calling for their friend. They don’t know they’re gone forever, and they don’t know where they went. Maybe they’re in the next room? Nope. Outside? Nope. At the daycare? The groomer? The vet? In the car? Under the bed? Nope. It’s heartbreaking. It reminds me of the sad song, Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone: the human never does find her beloved dog and has no idea what happened to him.

I don’t have any studies to reference, and I don’t have any proof. But I have seen – and heard of – dogs who’ve been able to be present during the euthanasia or who’ve visited with the body afterwards who seem to have grieved less severely and for a shorter duration. It makes sense. Animals surely must on some level know death. They may not understand its permanence, what it means or how to interpret the smell. But we do know they do grieve. We may not yet know what dogs think and feel about death, but we do know they miss their friends when they die.

When the unfortunate time comes for you to start preparing to send your beloved pet to the Rainbow Bridge, please consider all those who will be left behind and how we can best help them cope with the loss too.