How to cope with the loss of your dog
Here's a post I never thought I would have to write this early in our dog's lives. But, after dealing with the unexpected loss of our darling Pippa in late 2023 at only 7 years young, I realised there wasn't enough information online to help me through the sheer devastation that is losing a pet. We struggled through all the emotions after her loss which was made harder by watching Pippa's lifelong bestie, Bowie, our 6-year old mini dachshund, struggle just as much as we were.
I spent my days searching the internet for help on how to help myself, how to help Bowie - just generally how to make it all feel better as quickly as possible. And each time I searched, I came across articles that suggested grief came in stages and I just had to ride the wave of each stage. Not helpful.
Being the solutions-focussed person I am, I didn't care about the stages of grief. I wanted suggestions on what I could be doing to feel better, instead of sitting on the couch, looking across our living room and waiting for Pippa to walk around the corner like it was all a very bad dream.
So, here's the article I wish I found for myself during my time of immense grief. The small things I did that made it somewhat easier to get through the hardest parts, and the small things we did that seemed to help Bowie adapt to his new life without the only friend he's ever known.
To say I've finished grieving would be a lie - I still get that feeling in my throat every time I think about her and realise I'll never see her again (I expect to be a full blubbering mess by the time I finish writing this article), but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I can act on every time I feel that way that I hope will help you too, if you find yourself reading this after having experienced the same unfortunate circumstances that we did with Pippa.
Find something to remember them
Whether your pet's passing is sudden or planned, there are some wonderful ways to keep their memory alive in your home. We already had a custom watercolour painting of both Pippa and Bowie together which takes pride of place in our living room, but we love this idea if you don't have one yet. Artworks are painted based on a photo for reference, so if your pet was lost or crossed the rainbow bridge unexpectedly, you can still have one painted in their memory. The process of going through photos from a happier time is both messy and healing in its own way.
Another thing we did was get matching tattoos, so that all 4 of us would be together forever. The simple act of booking the appointment and being excited in the lead-up was a good distraction from the pain of grief. It gave us both something to look forward to and we thoroughly enjoyed the process of designing our tattoos with the artist. Pippa made such a big impact on our lives, so it was only fair that she had a permanent spot alongside her brother on our 'sleeves'.
Our last little 'something' has solved my longing need to pat, cuddle or feel Pippa, but this one was only possible because we had about a day's notice before we knew she would be leaving us. Long-time followers of our story and our socials will know that Pippa was dealt an unlucky hand from early on and endured the pain of 5 bouts of hereditary IVDD including 3 back surgeries with long recoveries. She had been going downhill again in her last 2 weeks Earthside with us, and we made the painful decision to do the best thing for her and not put her through any more pain, surgeries, strong medications or crate confinement.
She had spent the majority of her last 2 years on crate rest or in a pen to restrict movement and we felt it was only fair to let her run free 'up there' like the dog she was supposed to be. Her decline was so rapid in her last few days that we had to be squeezed in to an appointment to have her favourite vet visit us in our home on the day, and this was only confirmed with us about 24 hours earlier, which turned out to be just enough time to move heaven and earth to arrange this special momento.
A teary call to the lovely staff at Linden Cook Jewellery and a father-in-law who dropped everything to help meant that we had a full Wax Impression Kit in our hands the night before Pippa's last day. We were able to get impressions of Pippa's nose, which have then been turned into the most beautiful jewellery pieces - a necklace for me which hangs permanently near my heart and a signet ring for Adam. The impression in jewellery is perfectly textured to feel like Pippa's nose, and I find myself reaching for it multiple times a day when I want to feel her close to me. It has quickly become my most treasured piece of jewellery and I highly recommend it if you have any time to arrange it before your pet's passing.
Make a new routine
Interestingly, when I was searching for help online to figure out how to navigate my grief, I kept coming across articles that suggested keeping the same routine as normal and you will eventually be able to get through a day unscathed. But for me, this wasn't the case.
My usual routine included so much of Pippa that I couldn't last 60 seconds without falling in a heap, tears everywhere. When I made my breakfast, I would hear her phantom little squeals and pattering of her paws on the floorboards coming running for a piece of banana. Which, might I add, I was crazy enough to put pieces of banana/blueberries/carrot on the floor for her, just in case she was around me and I didn't want her feeling like she was missing out. I'd wait for her face kisses at bed time, was desperate for her to drop a toy at my feet at exactly 6pm when she always decided it was play time and waited for her to walk through the bathroom door after a shower. She was Queen of Leg Licking.
But continuing to wait for her to appear in all of these moments was hurting even more. So instead, I changed things up. I started showering after Bowie had gone to bed, made oats for breakfast instead of my usual banana smoothie and took Bowie for his walks when it was normally Pippa's self-dictated play time. Finding alternatives for those moments that you would usually expect to see her kept my mind busy and elsewhere, and I dwelled less and less on what I was missing, instead beginning to appreciate the new things I was discovering as a result of changing up my usual habits.
This seemed to be what helped Bowie the most as well. He started enjoying new experiences that he hadn't done before. We went to new places for walks, new cafés for puppychinos and started taking him back to dog school for social interaction with other dogs. We moved his bed into our bedroom for a little while so he didn't feel alone at night and gave him reasons not to miss Pippa. At home, he would sit in the hallway looking at the front door, waiting for her to come back through it again. But when he was out experiencing new things, he wasn't wondering where she was.
Send a 'thinking of you' gift
This one is a recommendation for the people around you. If you know someone that has lost a pet, send them something to let them know you're there. Only a few weeks before we lost Pippa, I had a big surgery and an extended hospital stay myself. I came home to countless bunches of flowers from all of our nearest and dearest to wish me well on my recovery.
Losing a pet is just as hard, if not more-so as losing a human. They are your baby. Treating it the same as if that person were in hospital or had lost a human family member helps to validate their feelings. It lets them know that they aren't silly for feeling so grief-stricken over a dog and makes them know you understand how hard it is.
We received some very thoughtful gifts from fellow dog people who just got it which deserve a mention here. To start, Pippa's favourite vet was also the same person who she saw for Hydrotherapy every week or two. She arrived out of the blue with a Star - an actual star in the sky - that the hydrotherapy team had named in Pippa's honour on the day she left us. It came with an app where you can track the star and see it on a clear night, and now I look for Pippa every night when Bowie goes outside before bed. She literally left us and became a shining star, which is a very comforting thought. Along with a candle and some flowers, another unique gift we received was a custom fleece blanket, printed with a picture of Pippa on the front. It's super soft, lovely to cuddle and feels like an outlet on those nights when you're sitting on the couch watching a movie and just want a little Pippa to pat.
Find a new hobby
Part of learning to move on without them is learning to figure out who you are without them. To start with, I literally didn't feel like I could be anything without Pippa here. I truly felt like the world had ended and there was no point me being in it anymore.
Then I discovered two things I was newly interested in and got caught up in the research and planning of it all.
To start, I discovered an interest in Animal Naturopathy and enrolled in a course to become an Accredited Animal Naturopath. Throughout Pippa's struggle with IVDD, we supplemented her food with natural powders and capsules, took her to many different alternative therapies, did activities with her to challenge her brain and I genuinely believe that we got far more time with her after her first diagnosis than we would have without these things. During that time, I helped a few other pet owners with suggestions on natural supplements to help their own dogs with certain issues and I got a thrill out of seeing them recover from things their own vets had told them was basically a death sentence. I want to do that more often, so here I am on my weekends studying animal naturopathy. It helped pass the time in those early days when time and silence were hard but instead, I was studying.
Secondly, I discovered crystals. I now call them my pet rocks for a laugh, and anyone who hasn't ventured into the world of crystals will think I've gone crazy. But I love the thought that each crystal has a different vibration which can help with different things in life. I'm not normally a spiritual person, so these were something I could hold on to (literally and figuratively) that made me feel better. I bought all the crystals associated with grief, put them under my pillow and carried them in my wallet. Whether it was these crystals doing the work or not, they made me feel better. Now, they've become more just part of the decor and I don't rely on them as much as I did, but they helped me get through a very hard time, so they've done their job.
Read this book
This one applies to anyone who has lost anyone - a pet or a human. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander. It is one of those books that was entirely life-changing. Whether you buy the book or listen to an audio version, just do it. Do it especially if you're not a very spiritual person (like me) and make sure you persist with the first part of the book that sets the scene with all the science. It's hard to get through, but necessary to get through so you can make sense of the rest of the book. I guarantee that it will become one you never forget. Promise.
Don't feel pressured to get over it
It took me a month before we packed away Pippa's crate and bed, 6 weeks before we moved the little shrine that was building on the dining table with photos, cards and her ashes and 2 months before I moved her dinner bowl. Don't feel pressured to 'recover' in a certain amount of time. Don't feel silly if you burst into tears 3 months later, just because you thought about them or someone said their name. Don't apologise for mentioning them 'too much' if it's the only thing you can think about.
It's true what everyone says - it does get easier with time, but personally, I think I helped to reduce the time it took before I felt like I might be able to cope without Pippa here by doing all the things listed above. As I learnt to get through it, I noticed that my mood and acceptance was in turn, helping Bowie to accept his new life too. And now, I feel like the new me has become a better person in memory of our sweet girl - gone but never forgotten.