Some dogs leave paw prints on our hearts. Andrea McHugh advises on how to survive the death of a canine friend.
1. Feel your way
Losing a beloved dog is heartbreaking. Everyone mourns differently but research shows that there are several layers of grief, which can include anticipated loss when you know the inevitable is coming, shock, denial, guilt, anxiety, and depression. Don't think you're crazy to feel any or all of these emotions - they are all perfectly natural, and eventually you will begin to feel more like your old self again. It just takes time.
2. Be your own best friend
When you're feeling emotionally fragile it can be all too easy to neglect yourself. But what advice would you give to a loved one in the same position? Perhaps you would tell them to be very gentle with themselves, rest as much as possible, or treat themselves to something cheerful such as flowers, a happy film, or a box of chocolates. Don't wait for someone else to suggest these things. Ask yourself what is needed in order to make you feel better for the day. Then do it.
3. Keep talking
Don't allow your feelings to bottle up inside. Keep talking to people about your dog; how you got him, the things you loved about him, the things that drove you mad, how much you miss him, and what it feels like to no longer have him with you. Choose friends who are sympathetic and avoid anyone who is likely to tell you to pull yourself together because you have ‘only lost a dog'. Your dog was a valued member of the family and you need to find people to talk to who can understand and appreciate that. Alternatively, write your feelings down in a diary or an online blog.
4. Positive thinking
When you're feeling particularly down, keep telling yourself that these feelings will pass. In time all things do. One day in the future, for a few minutes, you will suddenly realise that you are smiling again. Don't feel guilty when that happens, but rather welcome it as a sign of your emotional recovery.
5. Making memories
There are many lovely ways to remember your pet. If you are creative you could paint a picture, write a poem or story, or sew a tapestry. If you don't feel up to this you could commission someone to do it for you. Consider putting together a scrapbook of memories - children will enjoy helping with this project. Other ways to remember your dog include planting a tree or shrub in the garden, buying a memorial plaque, or even investigating companies that can make diamond jewellery from his hair or ashes.
6. Seek help
Never be ashamed to seek professional help if you need to. Ask your GP for advice if you are suffering prolonged depression or anxiety. Alternatively, you can call the Pet Bereavement Support Service run by Blue Cross, which is manned by trained volunteers.
7. Go online
We all read horror stories about social media sites such as Facebook, but in reality they can also be a lifeline for people who are struggling to cope, particularly if they don't have many friends to talk to in real life. A quick search of Facebook sites reveals lots of pet loss bereavement groups available for people to share their loss, memories, and photographs. It can be incredibly helpful to talk to someone online who is going through the same experiences.
8. Find a place to go
It is comforting to have a place where you can sit quietly to contemplate times gone by. This might be your dog's burial place, or where that you scattered his ashes, or it might just be a favourite sunny spot in the garden. Alternatively, create a special tranquil corner in your home with a photograph, scented candle, and a vase of fresh flowers. When you feel the need to connect with your pet again simply sit quietly and allow yourself time for your emotions to settle.
9. Try something new
When you own a dog you have routines, such as walks, meals, and spending time together every day. The absence of this routine can leave you feeling empty and lonely, so try to fi ll the time with something new. Research shows that meditation can really help the grieving process so look at ways to include 10 minutes of this at the start and end of your day. A search on YouTube will provide you with many videos of excellent meditations that can help you to get started. If you're missing your daily walks with your dog then look at doing something completely different for a while, such as swimming or taking up a new hobby.
10. Look to the future
Very gradually you will start to feel better. When you can think about your beloved dog without crying and the memories make you smile, it might be time to consider giving all the love in your heart to a new and very different dog. If that seems a step too far, then perhaps offer to walk someone else's dog during the day, sponsor a rescue dog, or volunteer at your local shelter. There are so many dogs out there who can benefit from all the love you gave to your former friend. You will know in your heart when the time is right.