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Pet Loss and Grieving

I’ll jump right to the heart of the issue: losing your Golden Retriever is a hard and painful experience. If you were as close to your Golden Retriever as most of the people who visit this site, you will be hurting for a very long time.

I lost my first two Golden Retrievers, Winger and Surf, in the fall of 2005, less than two months apart. To say that this ripped my heart out is an understatement. Because I know there are many of you who have yet to lose your first dog, I wanted to put together some information here for when you need it. It’s not easy to write or read, or re-live the end moments, but there is just so little information out there, I wanted to help you know what you are facing, and the different options you’ll need to consider.

When You Know There Isn’t Much Time Left

When your dog ages, or if he is sick, and you know there isn’t much time left, here are a few suggestions of things you should do:

  • Take Photographs Hopefully you have been taking photographs for your entire dog’s life. But now when he’s old or sick – you might not want to remember these moments, but it may help to reassure you later that you did the right thing, should you have to make the decision to put your dog down. You may choose never to look at them, but at least you have them if you want them.
  • Make Movies if you Can The best thing I did was to buy a digital camera in the spring of 2005. I couldn’t really afford it, but I put it on my credit card anyway. I am sooooo grateful. I have several months of continual photographs of Winger and Surf. And even better – I took a few digital videos of them. I have a few of them where I videoed them as they were just playing together and lying in the grass. Some of them swimming. I still can’t watch them too often, but if I’m already sad and I have them on my mind, I like to watch them and remember all their expressions and to remember all the good times we had.
  • Make a Clay Paw Print Impression My mother had found kits to make hand print impressions for children. It is just plaster of paris kit. If you can’t find a kit, I’m sure your local craft store could help you out. I made a paw print impression of each of my dog’s front right paws. On the back I wrote their name and the date I did the impression. It’s just something nice to have in their memory. Man that Winger had big paws 🙂
  • Clip some Hair Cut a lock of hair from your dog and place it in an envelope or ziploc. Then you’ll always have a piece of them with you.

Putting Your Dog Down

Often when a dog is suffering and dying, we choose to help them along to end their pain. This can be a really hard to decision to make. Everything I read said you’ll just know when it’s the right time. I’m not sure I did. It’s an extremely difficult decision and sometimes it is just the only option left.

With my vet, they schedule the procedure at the end of the day. With Winger, I knew in the morning that it was going to be his last day (his tumours were bleeding and he was just so sick) so I called and made the appointment. It was a long hard day agonizing with my decision, yet knowing it was the right one. We couldn’t do too much because he was sick and was bleeding, but I layed beside him and hugged him and spend a few quiet hours together. Luckily he had a burst of energy before the appointment and we were able to play fetch with him in the backyard one last time before we went in.

When it is time, you’ll have the choice to be present or not. For me, there was no option, I needed to be there. Some people just can’t handle it though, so know that you do have the choice. My boyfriend drove us (no way could I drive that day), but I went into the back room with Winger on my own. When Surf died I had family visiting and they came in to the clinic room with me.

When you are in the exam room, it is okay to cry and show emotion. Vet and vet techs are animal lovers themselves and understand the bond you have with your dog. Perhaps they’ve even grown close your own dog, especially if he’s been receiving on-going treatment. They may even shed a tear themselves.

They’ll probably ask you to put your dog on the table. Once he’s up there, they’ll shave a bit of his leg to prepare him for the needle. If your dog is very agitated, they may give him a sedation to calm and settle him down. There will usually be a vet and a vet tech present. The vet will administer the needle and the technician will help hold your dog and his leg still.

The drugs in the needle relax all your dogs muscles, including his heart, and he’ll “go to sleep”. Sometimes it takes several minutes, but in Winger’s case I just held him tight in a big hug, he let out one sigh as all the air came out of him and he relaxed on to the table. He was gone so fast. Surf took a few breaths before she was gone. I was able to stroke her fur and kiss her nose and close her eyes. They’ll just look like they have gone to sleep. After your dog has died, you will be allowed to have a few minutes alone, before you have leave. If you haven’t already done so, you can clip a lock of hair now if you wish.

All in all, it is very peaceful, and so much preferable than waiting it out – waiting for your dog to die on their own. In both of my dog’s cases, I’m sure they were each down to their last days, perhaps hours in Surf’s case, but they didn’t deserve to suffer needlessly, when with the help of a vet I was able to let them gently and peacefully go.

After Death Arrangements

After your dog dies, you will need to decide on what you would like to do with his body. It is good to ask the vet in advance for the options you have so you can think about what you would most prefer. My vet offered a few choices for me. Some I definitely didn’t like, and you might not either, but here they are:

  • deceased pets are collected and deposited in a special area of the local garbage dump
  • they will wrap your dog’s body in a garbage bag and place it into your vehicle for you should you choose to bury him on your own
  • there may be a local pet cemetery that you can make arrangements with for burial
  • group cremation – where your dog is cremated with other pets. You can either choose to have some ashes returned to you, or they can spread them at the cremation facility
  • private cremation – where your dog is cremated all on his own. You can either choose to have some ashes returned to you, or they can spread them at the cremation facility

Prices range up to $450 to have a private cremation with a return of the ashes. This is the choice I made, mostly because I didn’t have the land to bury them, and I knew I was in too much of a mess to dig a hole. When their ashes were returned, they were just in a plastic urn. You should ask ahead of time if you will need to order your own urn, or you can make one, or you can scatter the ashes if you choose. I scattered their ashes in a place where they loved to go and play and run and swim. It is a private decision though, just make sure you are not pressured into doing anything you aren’t comfortable with.

The First Few Days After

You’ll be in total shock. You just can’t believe your dog is gone. This is normal. You need to grieve. If you can, avoid work. Take time off. Vacation time, personal days, sick days, just don’t go – trust me – too many people just do not understand how losing your dog can be as painful as losing a family member, if not more so.

It is perfectly okay, and normal, if you don’t pick up your dogs things right away. Some people feel the need to erase them completely at first – to just get all immediate memories of their lost dog away for the time beings. Others will not want to touch anything – the nose prints on the window, the empty dog dish on the floor, the furballs in the hall, the stuffed toy inside the door. Go at your own pace. No one makes rules for these things. If you just can’t pick them up now, then don’t. Grieve at your own pace.

Remembering Your Dog

You’ll find there are times you just need to talk about your dog. Find people in your life that will listen. Even if it is to the same story you’ve told a dozen times. If you don’t have anyone, use the forums here at Canadian Goldens. We’ll listen. There are many of us who are also grieving for our lost Goldens as well.

My mother very generously gave me a wooden memory box. You can put all sorts of things in a memory box. Photos, tags, certificates, ribbons, etc. Inside I placed the last collars my dogs wore, and their locks of hair I cut while they were still with me.

How Long to Grieve

I can’t really answer this question. I know my dogs have been gone for many months now. Soon I will be approaching the one year mark. I still tear up often. Sometimes I need to have a good cry. There has been times when I just can’t think about them or look at their photos because it hurts too much. Sometimes I’ll laugh and smile remembering the silly things they did. Most of the time I can’t even believe they are gone. Sometimes it’ll just hit be out of the blue. Just before I sat down to write this article I was outside with my new Golden. I was playing with him and I bent down to rub and scratch him. I just about called him Winger and all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks how much I missed him. Sometimes it will be Surf that I grieve hard for, sometimes Winger, sometimes both of them collectively. I don’t know what is right and wrong for grieving, but I do know it’s personal. Just do what you need to do for as long as you need to do it. If you feel that you are falling too deep into depression, please see a counselor for tips on how to handle your grief. They can and will help you. Please let us here on the message board be the shoulder you can lean on as well. We understand.

Conclusion

I hope this article has been a help to the people that need it the most – the first time dog owners who are about to face the unknown.

Links

Bill of Rights for Grieving Animal Lovers

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