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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Ford

Pet bereavement -coping with the loss of your dog

Michelle Ford, co-host of Two Women Chatting writes about the heartbreaking decision she and her husband had to make when Maisie their beloved little dog became ill.

What to do when your dog dies

From the moment their little paw prints walk through your house, your pets become a member of the family. So often puppies are introduced when your children are 4 or 5 years old and, by the time those little kids become ‘adult’ kids heading off to university, your beloved pooch is approaching the end of its natural life.

What a double whammy that you become an empty nester and then your dog or cat also leaves for a place amongst the stars.

This happened to me recently with our 14 year old rescue dog, Maisie, and I’m still reeling. The atmosphere in the house has changed - and it’s so so quiet. No toenails tapping across the kitchen tiles, no name tag tinkling on the water bowl as Maisie would take a drink.

I find myself subconsciously still checking if she has fresh water, only to remember I moved a large plant there so that I couldn’t see the space where her bowl used to be. As I walk out the door I no longer have to check she has food or to encourage her outside to pee before I leave.

At night there’s no need to cautiously tiptoe across the carpet checking for her dog shape in the middle of the night - because she’s not there. I miss the sound of her snoring, that became so loud during her last few months that ear plugs would have been beneficial.

It’s so difficult to play ‘God’ and decide when the fateful day should be. I canvassed friends and my vet. “When will I know?” “Is it cruel to keep her going?” I really wanted someone to just take control and tell me…”It’s time”. In the end it was very clear. I often think how strange it is that we let humans deteriorate to such humiliating bad quality of life with little dignity, managing their pain with drugs when we literally ‘wouldn’t do that to a dog’.

Grief is grief whether it’s for a human bereavement or a pet. The triggers can come at any time; a spare poop bag in a jacket pocket, a missed furry face at the front door to welcome you home, a walk past the boneless chicken thighs at the grocery store because you don’t need them anymore.

Without a word to each other, my husband and I quietly deposited all things Maisie into the garage before we left for the vets. We knew we didn’t want to see her empty bed and soft toys when we returned. We kept her collar and tag, adding it with a lock of hair to the oversized martini glass where we kept mementos from our other dog, Basil’s, passing.

People handle grief in different ways. For me, unable to sleep later than 4am the morning after she went, I went into a flurry of activity, clearing out the dog drawer, washing the dog bed covers and packaging up uneaten treats and dog food so that I could give everything to a dog shelter. It seems harsh to remove everything so quickly but it was protecting my emotions. Then I spent hours cooking up a storm, like Monica in Friends, baking, stirring and melting to distract myself.

Eventually I will embrace the ‘positives’ of being pet-free. An opportunity to be spontaneous with travel plans, to not race home from a day out to make sure there are no “accidents”, no more dog sitting fees. But that will take time. Definitely a new chapter in this empty nest life.

If you’ve suffered a pet loss, consider donations to shelters such as Battersea Dogs Home, Blue Cross Blue Cross Food Bank ) or Berkshire Pet Food Bank pet food bank locations popping up now that owners are struggling to feed their dogs and cats during the cost of living crisis.

Listen to Two Women Chatting’s podcast on All Dogs Go to Heaven available on all podcast platforms or through our website

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