Updated: Aug 8, 2022
By Kristen Carter
I'm really struggling with intense sadness and loss since I had to say goodbye to my emotional support dog, Gus. He was 13 years old and so much a part of me, even to the point that he needed to be with me in whatever room of the house I was in. Gus was struggling with complex medical problems and I was in fear of his imminent suffering. He was a handsome Scottish Terrier and has been with me through my entire journey with breast cancer. He provided comfort when he knew I needed it and now I feel completely lost without him. I've been experiencing trouble concentrating and sleeping and am overcome with grief and guilt over my decision to have him euthanized. What can I do to get through this painful time and to reach the point where I can think about all the love and happy memories that we shared?
I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved dog. Our relationships with our animal companions can be so rich and fulfilling that many people suffer as much or more when pets die as when they lose a human friend or family member.
It’s no wonder – our love for and from animals can be among the most unconditional, nonjudgmental, and relatively simple relationships of our lives. In your case, this is compounded by the fact that Gus was there for you during an intense and traumatic phase of your life.
Take whatever time you need to grieve
There are no shortcuts when it comes to grieving. Allowing yourself to feel all the hard phases of the process – typically denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – may hurt while they’re happening but will ultimately allow you to complete this healing cycle.
You mention feeling guilty as well. You sound like a very loving, sensitive person and I would wager that you thought through all the possibilities for Gus before deciding on euthanasia. It was probably the kindest thing you could have done under the circumstances. So give yourself permission to let go of the guilt, even if you have to do it little by little.
Coping with other people’s reactions
Not everyone understands how deeply the loss of a pet can affect us. Some people may try to minimize Gus’s loss, saying things like, “He was only a dog,” or “Just adopt another one.” This might even be their misguided attempt to make you feel better. Others may say nothing, either because they don’t understand how you feel, are trying to stay in denial about the prospect of losing their own animal, or trying not to remember the death of a previous one.
Try not to let these awkward encounters upset you, if possible. Simply move on or respond with something like, “Thanks for your advice, but I need to handle this my own way.”
Find people who DO understand
There are people who will know what you’re going through and who can offer their support plus ideas for healing. You may want to explore the internet, including Max’s Healing Hearts Community on Facebook and the Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss grief support center.
Honor his memory
Create a memorial you can visit as often as you want to. This can be a photo on a bookshelf, a place where he is buried or you keep his ashes, or something as simple as a candle you light whenever you miss him. Talk to him, tell him you love him, thank him for his love – anything that makes you feel good or connected.
Take your time
Time will help ease the intensity of your grief, and (again) you can’t rush this. You may feel ready for another pet someday, but in the meantime, be gentle with yourself. Something you might want to do before you take the plunge into ownership would be volunteering at an animal shelter; that would give you access to the kind of love only animals can give, without a full commitment.
In the meantime, give yourself compassion and know that your capacity to love so deeply is an amazing strength.
All the best for your healing journey,