My wife and I recently went through one of the most agonizing events of our lives: the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy. I remember making eye contact with Murphy moments before she breathed her last — she gave me an endearing mix of confusion and comfort that everything was well because we were both by her side. The Discussion
When people who have never owned a dog witness their dog-owning friends’ grief at the loss of a pet, they may think it’s all a bit much; after all, it’s “only a dog.”
Those who have loved a dog, on the other hand, realize that your own pet is never “just a dog.”
Many times, friends have confessed to me, guiltily, that they mourned the loss of a dog more than the loss of friends or family. According to research, the loss of a dog is almost identical to the loss of a human loved one for the majority of individuals. Unfortunately, there is little in our cultural playbook to help us get over the loss of a pet – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious ceremony – which can make us feel more than a little embarrassed to display too much public grief over our dead dogs.
Perhaps if people understood how powerful and profound the link between people and their dogs is, such mourning might be more universally recognized. This would immensely assist dog owners in integrating the death into their lives and moving ahead.
A one-of-a-kind interspecies relationship
What is it about dogs that makes humans relate so strongly with them?
For starters, during the last 10,000 years, dogs have had to adjust to living with humans. They’ve done it very well: they’re the only animals that have evolved particularly to be our companions and buddies. The “Domestication Hypothesis” was proposed by anthropologist Brian Hare to explain how dogs evolved from their grey wolf ancestors into the socially competent animals we today engage with in much the same way we interact with other people.
One reason our connections with dogs can be more rewarding than our human relationships is that dogs give us unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. (As the old adage goes, “May I become the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”)
This is not by chance. They have been selectively developed over generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans demonstrate that dog brains respond just as strongly to praise from their owners as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs detect humans and can learn to comprehend human emotional states based only on face expression. Scientific studies also show that dogs can understand human intentions, try to assist their owners, and even avoid individuals who do not collaborate with or treat them kindly.
Humans, predictably, respond favourably to such unrequited affection, support, and loyalty. People can grin just by looking at pets. Dog owners have higher well-being scores and are happier on average than persons who own cats or no pets at all.
As if they were a part of the family
A recent research of “misnaming” highlighted our profound attachment to dogs in a subtle way. Misnaming occurs when you call someone by the incorrect name, such as when parents erroneously call one of their children by the name of a sibling. It turns out that the family dog’s name is similarly confused with human family members, showing that the dog’s name is drawn from the same cognitive pool as other members of the family. (Ironically, the same issue rarely occurs with cat names.)
It’s no surprise that dog owners miss them when they’re gone.
According to psychologist Julie Axelrod, the loss of a dog is so heartbreaking because owners are losing more than simply their companion. It could imply the loss of an unconditional source of affection, a major companion who provides stability and comfort, and possibly even a protégé who has been mentored like a child.
The loss of a dog can also have a greater impact on an owner’s daily routine than the loss of most friends and relatives. Owners’ daily activities, and even vacation plans, can revolve around the requirements of their dogs. Changes in lifestyle and routine are two of the most common causes of stress.
According to a recent poll, many mourning pet owners will misinterpret confusing sights and sounds as the departed pet’s movements, pants, and whimpers. This is more likely to occur quickly after the pet’s death, especially among owners who had a strong bond to their pets.
While the death of a dog is heartbreaking, dog owners have grown so accustomed to their canine companions’ reassuring and nonjudgmental presence that, more frequently than not, they will eventually adopt a new one.
Yes, I do miss my dog. But I’m sure I’ll put myself through this torture again in the coming years.
Frank T. McAndrew, Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, Knox College
Bruce Skinner says
I lost 2 German Shepherd dogs only 4 months apart and nothing can prepare oneself for this.The first to go was only 17 months old but had massive mental issues and after a lot of research and money spent the only way to give the animal peace was to let her go.The 2nd Shepherd was an older female who was just over 12 years of age and weighed in at just under 60 kgs.She was a gentle soul and never did anything wrong over her entire life.She knew and tols us it was time for her to leave us and on her final visit to the vets went around all the staff and gave them a goodbye kiss,everyone was in tears.We had got a new GS puppy between the 2 dogs passing and she is a perfect angel and has now just turned 5.That is our story and thank you for reading this.
Thank you for sharing.
Wendy Boxer says
This was perfectly reflective of my experiences. Thanks for sharing!
Susan Howard says
I have suffered through this loss five times, and it never gets any easier. Each time I have told myself that I can never do it again–but I do. And I still grieve for each of them, going back probably a quarter of a century or more and I still have special memories of each of them. Now I have a sixth dog, who I am sure will outlive me. But I cannot do without the companionship that they offer me and the emotional outlet that they afford me.
Karen King says
Thank you for reminding me of all the reasons I love them and mourn them and will always have them in my life.
Doggie-‘poem’, done in a couple of mins…
Quite inspired (or reminded) by this piece:
Do they know
How their innocent endearing being
Weaves around our hearts and minds,
Our beings, -leaving tracks…
In ways that will go-in deep, & stay in there forever,
[And only slightly fade throughout time…]
Maybe they do know! Maybe it provides some satisfaction, fulfilment,
For their (much) shorter time of being-here…
(So their being last much longer than their earthly-life…)
That their simple, straightforward sincerity in their eyes/face,
[-However cunning they think they are!]
Their endearing and naughty ways,
Their responsiveness and liveliness…
Their love and keen awareness of the abode, habits and routines
Of their ape-like companions -their natural-nature,
All help cause or forge this bond,- which is more eternal than temporal…
But these canine beings teach us,
that -in spite of these treasured recordings deep in our hearts and beings,
Love and the Present are where it’s at!
I think that in human heart is place dedicated just to a dog. Once you have, you feel it is full with love. When you lost. It, you can feel this soecific place is simply empty – and you can not refíIll it by human love… because this place in your heart is just for animal…. My personal experience..
❤️ I think you are right.
Last week just let my 2nd dog go. At almost 15, his brother was set free 3yrs ago & having his brother for comfort was enormously healing.
When we recieved our now 6m old puppy I knew he would be here helping us heal when it was time to let our older boy go, which made it easier.
As hard as losing them is- the years of love and memories you have together is worth it.
I miss my boys incredibly and I’m sure they’re in doggy heaven playing together and will send us more Beautiful pups to love throughout our time here.
Catherine Clark says
We lost our very first fur baby, Pepe almost 11 years ago. He was very sick and the day we took him to vet we knew it was time. He was having to a really hard time breathing and they did everything they could. We were there the entire time and saying goodbye to him was undoubtedly the worst thing we had ever been through. I went into a severe depression, couldn’t eat, sleep or do anything except think if there was something I had missed. I agonized. My family and a handful of friends were the only ones who understood. The pain of losing him is always with me and I know I will carry it with me to the end. It Truly is heartbreaking. 😥😥
I lost my old Bedlington Lurcher cross 3 weeks ago, he was 14 and I knew it was time for him to go after a couple of weeks of struggling. Monday just gone I lost very suddenly my 12 year old Chihuahua, due to a short but fatal illness. This, just 3 weeks later has hit me really hard and left a huge whole in my life. Also an incredible feeling of guilt that I missed the signs of her Illness and she may have lived longer. I will never forgive myself. I still have 3 dogs at home which helps a little.
Roslyn Eberhardt says
As a cat fur baby lover, l still feel the closeness that is built between a human and dog fur baby.. They are so all knowing and intelligent. Th
They think of you as a soulmate. Happy and sad along with you. Naturally training plays a big part in bringing your companions heart into the open. As those that have lost a dog to illness or accident and you miss them terribly, please remember that you have given them a loving home and family. Without you, they would not have a reason to be. Above all, when at all possible be with them when it is their time to leave this world. They will want to know their loved one is with them as they go into their final sleep. Should you lose your precious fur baby consider giving another fur baby a family of their own. They will love you in return.
Wendy Andrew says
I’m the founder of The Scottish Pet Bereavement Counselling Service and author of How To Recover From Pet Loss. I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure you have brought great comfort to many by writing this.