How to handle a dog’s death? The loss of a dog is accompanied by a series of emotions, and sometimes it takes days or even months before we fully accept the loss and complete the process of mourning the lost being.
Many of us put a lot of time and effort into caring for our pets and we bond with them as if they were family members, which they are for us.
Although we know from the beginning that the lifespan of the average dog is significantly shorter than humans, nothing can actually prepare us for the death of a beloved pet, regardless of the cause.
Grieving for a pet
Grieving for a pet, which to many people represents much more than that, is often met with misunderstanding, criticism, and condemnation from the environment, especially by people who are not pet owners themselves.
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The significance of the loss is diminished, and grief over the loss of an animal is considered inappropriate, incomprehensible, unjustified, or even unnecessary.
It is generally believed that the loss of an old animal can be easily compensated by the acquisition of a new one and that the relationship between man and the animal can in no way be compared to an interpersonal relationship.
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Animal owners are aware of the fact that the relationship between man and animal is unique and different from the relationship with humans, but this does not diminish their grief and pain over the loss.
Many of them find it difficult to cope with insensitivity and inappropriate comments from the environment by suppressing or denying their suffering, which can complicate the situation and make the grieving process much more difficult for them.
Grieving is a process
Grief is a natural process that follows the loss of someone or something to whom we have been emotionally attached.
Examples of such significant losses may be the death of a child, partner and/or another family member, severance of an emotional connection, loss of a job, moving to another city or state, serious illness, death of a pet, and the like.
Losses due to death are characterized by permanence, finality, and irreversibility, unlike other types of losses where there may be at least some theoretical hope that the lost person will return to us or that we will regain what we lost.
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Although the process itself is neither easy nor pleasant, grief allows us to adjust to the loss.
It is a situation where we face the experienced loss and its consequences on our lives and that over time we learn to live with the loss according to our own capabilities.
The intensity and duration of the grieving process are individual and depend on the strength of the emotional attachment to the one we have lost.
Reactions to loss can be classified into four broad groups:
– emotional (eg sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety/fear, helplessness, loneliness)
– thoughts (eg shock and disbelief, feeling lost control of life, difficulty concentrating, remembering, imposing thoughts and images of loss, anxiety, searching for the meaning of loss and the meaning of life after loss)
– physical (eg feeling of “emptiness” in the stomach, “tightness” in the chest and/or throat, feeling of pressure in the chest, sensitivity to sounds, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue)
– behavioral (eg difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, withdrawal from people, crying).
It is important to emphasize that all the above reactions are natural, common, and expected, ie they occur in all people to a certain extent.
How many phases have grief
The grieving process usually takes place in several stages:
Immediately after death follows a phase of shock and disbelief, often accompanied by a feeling of numbness and denial of loss.
These reactions are considered adaptive because they protect the person from the severe pain that comes with a full understanding of what happened.
The second phase is characterized by a longing for the lost and a search for the same, with a tendency to deny that fact.
The third phase is marked by despair accompanied by a multitude of different reactions to loss and withdrawal from people.
In the fourth, final phase of grief, the person begins to restructure and gradually recover, which is evident in accepting the loss as real, in a visible reduction in the intensity and number of reactions to loss, and in a stronger sense of well-being and better overall functioning.
It should be emphasized that the stages of mourning vary from person to person, and it is not necessary for everyone to go through all the stages nor must they go through them in that order.
Four tasks when mourning
Some authors believe that it is better to speak in terms of grieving tasks that assume a certain activity by the grieving one and suggest four grieving tasks:
The first task is to accept the reality of loss, that is, to face the fact of the finality of death.
Some people refuse to believe that this really happened and get stuck on the first task of the grieving process.
Accepting the reality of loss and its meaning takes time; sometimes the grieving person intellectually understands what happened, but is still not emotionally ready to accept that information.
The second task relates to processing and experiencing the pain of loss, where the aggravating circumstance may be the lack of adequate social support, which is especially pronounced after the loss of a pet.
Avoiding pain by denying its existence can prolong the course of grief and lead to abnormal grief and the need for therapy.
The following tasks include adjusting in a person’s daily functioning and resuming life after a loss, with a memory of the lost.
After losing a pet, if you feel that you lack support from people close to you, find a way to surround yourself with those who will listen and understand you.
Today, there are social networks where you can share your emotions and get the support you need during the grieving process.
As much as the process of grieving for a pet is uncomfortable and as much as it is made more difficult by different negative social attitudes.
It is important that you know and accepts that the sadness you feel is completely expected and normal and that you are not alone and forgotten.
How to talk to children?
We experience the dog as part of the family, but this is especially true for children who describe him as a friend, and even as a brother or sister.
Explain to your child the loss of his pet through this children’s book – Someone I Love Died
For them, the death of a dog may be the first encounter with a loss, and it can become the basis for how they will deal with losses when they grow up.
For parents, the topic of death is very difficult, so they tend to make excuses, hide their own grief in order to protect them. However, many children actually want to talk about it.
Allow them to ask you questions, and with honest answers in accordance with the child’s age, you will help them overcome fear and confusion.
Do not try to make it easier for them by telling them that the dog ran away or was stolen, because that way you risk feeling angry and helpless, and in the end, they will feel cheated.
Grief is not the same for children and adults, but that does not mean that it is less painful for them.
It is more expressed through changes in behavior, avoiding society, and falling behind in school. It is harder if they grieve for another close person.
Do not tell them not to cry and not to be sad, but share with them what you are going through yourself.
It is helpful to allow them to participate in forgiveness rituals, but keep in mind that you as a parent know your child best and know how much information they can handle.
When to adopt a new dog?
A new pet is adopted only when you are ready to move on and establish a new relationship.
If we do it too early, you can complicate the process of grieving yourself or other family members, or you may mistakenly expect that a new pet will provide instant relief, especially for children.
Because of the turbulent emotions, it may seem like a good solution, but sometimes you just want your dog back, so you risk projecting his behavior and characteristics onto a new one.
Someone doesn’t even want a new dog because they think it’s a form of betrayal. In any case, do not rush with the decision, wait for the sadness to work, and return to normal functioning.
The problem of “disenfranchised grief”
People who are not dog owners themselves may experience its loss as less significant, and your grief as inappropriate, incomprehensible, unnecessary, or unjustified.
Usually, these are the sentences that hit even harder, such as “but it’s just an animal” or “well, you’ll adopt another.”
In general, society itself tends to trivialize this kind of sadness.
Disenfranchised grief is a term used to describe losses that are not socially accepted, which means that they are not recognized or are not even “allowed”, social support is lacking, and public grief is condemned.
Society believes that the loss of a dog can be easily overcome by simply replacing a pet because the relationship between a dog and a human can never have the same strength and depth as a human relationship.
It turns out that grief is justified only when it is intertwined with other stressful circumstances and losses.
Owners know that it is wrong to start from the human relationship as a measure and an ideal and that the relationship between a dog and a man is important precisely because it is unique, different, and special.