Dog-centered readings or perspectives on pet loss/grief?
June 10, 2024 5:56 AM   Subscribe

We lost a beloved, much-too-young dog under traumatic circumstances last week, and we are having trouble processing the loss. A friend pointed me to this Blair Braverman piece, which I found helpful, and I'm looking for similar ways of thinking about our relationships with our dogs.

We lost our 2.5 year old dog Sophie to a snake bite last week. The bite happened while my husband was walking our dogs at the creek where we have walked daily for decades. We got her to an emergency vet, and her odds looked good; by the next afternoon we were talking about when she could come home. But the second night, she went downhill around 2 AM, coded, and died before we could reach the ER. We have had many dogs over the years, and have worked through grief before, but this loss is more traumatic and complex than anything previous, and the usual approaches don’t feel very helpful (I should say, we are still doing all the usual things: talking about it, memorializing Sophie, focusing on the dogs we still have, etc.).

Most pet grief and loss resources seem like variations on theology (Rainbow Bridge, "all dogs go to heaven") or psychology (stages of grieving, steps you take to heal). I'm looking for perspectives that simply focus on dogs, their personalities and ways of experiencing the world, how they fit into our families, and what our lives together mean.

If you have lost a dog or other pet, what are some readings/ways of thinking/perspectives you have found comfort in, beyond the theological or clinical?
posted by helpthebear to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry. I find comfort in the words our local philosopher mochapickle shared:
Every time I lose a dog, he takes piece of my heart. Every new dog gifts me with a piece of his. Someday, my heart will be total dog and maybe then I will be just as generous, loving and forgiving.
posted by phunniemee at 6:11 AM on June 10 [10 favorites]

I'm so sorry, what a rough loss. When we lost a dog in sudden and traumatic circumstances (albeit very different ones,) my wife wrote a lovely piece celebrating her. I think the writing of it helped her - she took that loss hard.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:20 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]

When I lost my first cat decades ago, I lived in Philadelphia and the UPenn veterinary school had pet-loss grief counselors available and they were very helpful. It's been forever but a quick search shows this list of resources that looks pretty good.
posted by Ampersand692 at 6:51 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

I am so, so sorry. This is so hard. It doesn't matter how many times it happens. (I know many people take comfort in that Rainbow Bridge stuff and God knows I don't begrudge them that comfort, but I hate it.)

Dogs not only "know not the hour," they don't even know that there is an hour waiting for them. If their time with you was happy, then that was what mattered to them, in a way more complete than is true when we say the same thing about humans. Sophie wasn't peering over the edge of her every day towards fear or grief the way humans can't help doing. If her days were filled with the humble dog pleasures, food and warmth and play and care, then that is all she knew. And that's a beautiful thing, a thing you gave her.

Sophie's suffering at the end was heartbreaking but soon over, and she's rejoined the Nature that gave her to you in the first place. The more I read about modern understandings of the natural world, the more profoundly different and distinct from us all animals seem--even companion animals have their own "sovereignty"--and the more miraculous a gift it is that we can connect with any of them. But they are both ours and not ours. We live by the rules of the natural world that means eventually we all separate from our loved ones, and thereby become part of new life.
posted by praemunire at 7:49 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]

I acknowledge this is pretty woo, but my current philosophy is this: companion animals come here to this realm/to our lives to do exactly what they do, to walk with us for a while on our paths. I don't know for sure if I think that's just the rules or if they are cosmic grad students working on a dissertation, but I do believe that the shortness of their lives and the kind of symbiotic relationship we have with them and the deeply intimate enmeshing of their lives into ours IS the design.

And the pain of them leaving - which I believe is largely ours, I think they complete their journey with the satisfaction of a job well-done - is a thing we are meant to feel, and so feeling it is absolutely right even though we often treat grief like it won't hurt if we just do it "right", and that we are students completing one of many courses of study each time one of them finishes their time with us. Loss is a part of graduation.

All that aside, you've experienced a significant trauma that needs to be processed separate from grief. My husband and I are in the middle of reading the book The Modern Trauma Toolkit: Nurture Your Post-Traumatic Growth with Personalized Solutions, which has a bunch of real-world nervous system regulation techniques for managing traumatic stress, big feelings, and general world upheaval.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:37 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

Oh no. I'm so sorry you lost Sophie. How painful that must be. I'm so, so sorry.

"Let's Take The Long Way Home" is a beautiful book about loss and dogs. It's a memoir, written by Gail Caldwell, mostly about losing a human friend. But the love of dogs is very strong, too. "Pack of Two", written by Caroline Knapp (the friend in question) is also very good.

Patricia McConnel has written several essays about grieving for dogs. She also wrote the excellent "For the Love of A Dog", about canine emotions and human-canine relationships.

The book that helped me most was "Resilient Grieving". It's about the untimely and tragic loss of a daughter, but that was the book that most closely examined the type of profound and complicated grief I felt.

I hope you feel some peace today. It's okay to imagine Sophie is still with you, if you need that right now. Maybe she can be with you in your dreams. Be gentle with yourself.
posted by toucan at 2:44 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

You might also find this NYT column about why you "can't" publish an obituary in the NYT for a fellow like Finnegan, one of dog scientist Alexandra Horowitz's dogs, helpful.
posted by praemunire at 8:25 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss. Way too sudden, way too young.

I've lost three beloved dogs in my life and I always find it helpful and soothing to write a little obituary or poem or something, just to try to distill what they were like into a few lines.
posted by potrzebie at 5:33 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you, though, for articulating and posting these questions, because my family's going through a similar emergency outcome as of twelve hours ago (the medical team was optimistic our dog was responding well to treatment and we'd be bringing him home today, and he passed suddenly in the middle of the night before we could get back to the hospital), and this feels like such a different grief than our previous pet losses. Searching "pet grief" on ask brought up this post for me first.

I read Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter in the past few hours, and this might fit what you're looking for. While it does cover all kinds of pets, dogs are the most frequently discussed. The focus of the book is on pet lives and death and the history & culture of grieving for pets. It's definitely made me feel less alone in the grief (the love, the guilt) even when I didn't share the exact grief responses in some of the stories. (And despite the "hereafter" in the title, there is not a lot of religion in here, and only a glancing mention of the Rainbow Bridge poem during a particular service.) The book's specific section on euthanasia did make my heart ache a little, because it is covers how ideal it is, and not having had the chance to go that route with our dog, that's a little rough on my heart at the moment. But this book was good company for what I'm going through.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 10:16 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]

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