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Dealing with the death of a beloved
many of us in the dog agility world, our lives revolve around our dogs. As well
as the emotional bond we have with our dogs, we also have a close working
relationship with them. They are our partners, co-workers, companions and team
members. When this relationship comes to an end, the grief can be over-whelming.
Agility competitor and counsellor Emma-Jane LaRoche recognises that grieving for
the loss of a pet, whether through death, parting or enforced separation, can be
a sad and difficult experience and that everyone deals with grief in their own
way and in their own time.
Sometimes we can be
surprised by the depth of our feelings over the death of our dog and yet, when
we think about it, for many of us our dog is an integral part of our family and
lives. Many of us will experience the same - if not deeper, more intense -
levels of grief when we lose a dog than with the death of a human loved one. For
some, it may also include the loss of a social environment, identity,
camaraderie and companionship. The intensity of this loss can be even greater
because of the unique, unconditional, uncomplicated, open and accepting
relationship we have with our dogs.
Some common reactions to
the death or loss of a pet can include:-
Loss of appetite
What is known about any type of grief is that
we can move through a range of different emotions in no particular order.
J. Bowlby and C. Parkes
The only cure for
grief is to grieve
Although painful, grieving
is important as it can help us recover and carry on with our lives.
unconditional, non-judgemental and accepting relationship we receive
from our dogs can sometimes offer a relationship which may be lacking
from our human companions.
So, why would we
not feel the same depth of grief with our dogs as we would with
our fellow human beings? Sadly, society also tells us it is not
acceptable to grieve so deeply for our canine companions.
I came across
the term 'disenfranchised grief' during my training and it is a word
which I believe is equally relevant in the area of animal bereavement.
It means a grief which is not acknowledged by society i.e. we shouldn't
be grieving so much for a dog or there is a time limit on the grief we
have for our dogs.
can lead to feelings of confusion. Additionally, our own pre-conceived
ideas about grieving for an animal can cause us to become stuck and
self-critical. What is important to know is that it is absolutely normal
and natural to feel grief with the death of our dog in much the same way
as when we lose a human loved one and, like any grieving process, there
is no time limit!
Bill at Rainbow
David had been 'best friends' with a
dog Ė not with a human being.
'What,' she wondered, 'did it say
about someone who could relate to a dog on a deeper level that with a
fellow human being?''
'Bill had been a great dog,' she
admitted, 'but a dog nonetheless. And she didnít think it was natural or
even proper, to mourn the loss of an animal with the same intensity one
would mourn the passing of a human being.'
David continued to tell another story
about Bill. And as he did, he found himself smiling.
David was smiling he realised,
because he felt that Bill was somehow nearer...'
community is a strong one and overall it is a place where we can find
the comfort, understanding and acceptance we may need. As a group, we
are able to empathise and generally accept the range of emotions
experienced by our peers. This can be of huge benefit when we grieve at
the death of our dogs. The support and understanding of our fellow
agility colleagues can go a long way to helping us process this grief in
a healthy way.
things you can do...
As fellow dog agility enthusiasts, there are some things we can do to
both help ourselves and our friends when going through the grieving process.
grief. A condolence card, email or some form of communication to signify
recognition over the importance of this death.
Many individuals may
turn to friends and/or family for support at this very painful time. Be
sure to keep in touch with friends who are grieving. Isolation when grieving
can be hard. This may be one of the most important things you can do as a
friend or relation. Avoid talk of replacing a dog. Some may be able to move
on quickly to another dog whilst others need time, possibly years to think
about taking on another puppy/dog. Remember our grieving process as well as
our personal circumstances are totally individual. Donít assume what someone
It helps to talk!
Talking can help us to process the grief and start the healing process. Talk
with friends, family or an experienced counsellor. It is important to
realise that there is no set way to grieve. Your way of processing grief is
individual to you!
Look after yourself!
Grieving can be exhausting. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and give
yourself the time and space you need to grieve. Try to keep to a routine and
make sure you are still eating healthily and exercising.
Many people have
found memorialising a pet to have been a great source of comfort. There are
many different ways this can be done from planting a tree, keeping a memento
such as a piece of jewellery, plaque, a website memorial page and/or a
charity walk and so the list goes on.
The Blue Cross
offers Pet Bereavement Support which provides trained volunteers who offer a
'listening ear' whilst you are going through this traumatic experience.
Be aware there is no set
specific time for grief, be it days, months or years. Just as in the grief over
the death over a much-loved human relation or companion, grieving is a natural
process. We can, however, get stuck at a certain point of the grieving process.
If you feel the
intensity of your feelings are not lessening or your ability to take on regular
tasks has become increasingly difficult, these may be signs which indicate
professional help is required. To find a counsellor in your area, The
Counselling-Directory provides a list of professionally qualified counsellors.
I would like to thank my
friend and colleague Sue Byrne MBACP (Accred.), BA (Hons) Counselling for her
contributions to this article. Sue is a Clinical Supervisor and Equine Assisted
Bowlby, J. & Parkes, C. (1970)
Processes of Mourning. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42,
Carrison, D. (2010) Bill at Rainbow
Bridge. Modern Family Classics Publishing.
Doka, K. (1989) Disenfranchised grief:
Recognising hidden sorrow. Lexington, MA: Lexington Press.
Grollman, E. (2017) Grief Quote.
Grief Poetry, Word Press.com
Emma-Jane LaRoche MBACP BA (Hons) has been taking part in dog agility for
over 18 years and has also run her own agility club.
She set up a pet care
business 15 years ago but has taken a back seat with her husband now running the
business full time since she began practicing as a counsellor in 2012.
Emma-Jane has a private
practice in Guildford, Surrey and runs pet bereavement workshops for both
professionals and those wanting to understand more about pet bereavement.
Alongside this, she practices Animal Assisted Therapy which also includes dog
Tel: 01483 338151 email
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First published 11th August 2018