Lucky and Me: Why Losing a Pet Can Cause Immense Grief
First, let me start by saying this is still a tough topic for me, but I felt now would be a good time to write about it.
When my 8 year and 10 month old yellow lab, Lucky, passed away on April 26 of this year, it’s safe to say it was the worst day of my life, and that’s no overstatement. This was the first time I experienced a full-blown panic attack. I wasn’t there when my dog died, and this only added to my guilt. Lucky had been acting more lethargic for a few days the week she passed away, often breathing heavily. I was worried, but when some of the members in my family reassured me, I didn’t push it too far. We took her to the vet a couple of days before she died, but the doctor did not check her or anything—just gave her routine shots. She acted completely normal that day, but the next day was back to heavy panting and lying down by herself in the kitchen. The day she died before I went to work, my dad said she still seemed like there was something wrong with her. I said I would take her to the vet the next day. Unfortunately, the next day never came for her. She had a tumor that had hemorrhaged, my sister told me while crying. She and my brother had taken Lucky to the pet ER, but she did not make it.
Lucky was the first dog for my family. We got her when she was only 2 months old, and she quickly felt more like a family member than a pet. She had a lot of attitude and a bit of a wild personality. She was kind of a brat—I mean princess.
Although Lucky was a family dog, I developed a very strong bond with her; she was definitely my best friend.
When she passed away, I felt like a piece of myself had died as well. The following days and weeks felt empty and never-ending. I often dreamt about her, and still do. I found myself entirely miserable. I felt like it was another life, like I was a different person and things would never again be “normal.” Lucky had become a huge part of all of our lives, but mine especially.
After a little while, when my grief refused to subside, I started to wonder if I was weird. I even questioned whether or not I should feel so sad.
When I looked into the subject of pet loss, I found other people who had similar stories to mine, people who felt the same immense grief, people who still greatly missed their pets years after they had passed (Stewart, n.d.).
There are also times where this loss in particular is overlooked or trivialized. In my own experience, I have gotten a couple people, even family members, tell me to “get over it” or that she was “just a dog.”
Luckily, I had others, like my sister who understood and felt the same pain I did.
Sometimes we form a very strong bond with an animal, whether it be with a dog or another animal that comes into our lives.
When our animals are alive, we treat them as family, yet when they pass, we aren’t allowed to properly mourn. There seemed to be a desire to get back to the normal state of things, but we should allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling without being ashamed, and without trying to get over it (Psych Central, 2013).
Pets become huge parts of our lives through years and years of loyalty, fun, and their need for our love and attention. You form an unspoken bond with your pet.
Pets offer unconditional love, and as Betty Carmack puts it in Grieving the Death of a Pet, “pets carry less of the baggage that human relationships carry” (Carmack, 2003). And we offer the same unconditional love to our pets, knowing they will always be there for us and they won’t ever be too busy, too tired, or too angry to show us love and comfort us.
I know for me, when I was down or went through friendless times, I always had my dog as a constant companion who helped pull me out of depression. I felt it was my responsibility to take care of her, but not in a burdening way.
Carmack says “the grief we feel for our animals isn’t like any other grief” (Carmack, 2015).
There are those who take the loss harder than human loss (Psychology Today, 2010).
Personally, I’ve never had anyone close to me die; Lucky was the first.
It’s been four months, and I still think about her everyday and expect to see her when I come home. Some days, it’s still hard to believe she’s gone, but when it comes to pain and loss, you don’t ever “get over it.” You just try to accept it and hope there’s a time you will see each other again.
Dedicated to: Lucelia Amelia Earhart Jr. Puppy Gill “Lucky” (no kidding that was her full name)
June 15, 2006—April 26, 2015
Please feel free to share your own pet stories in the comments.
Axelrod, J. (2013 30 January) Grieving the Loss of a Pet Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/grieving-the-loss-of-a-pet/
Pease Gadoua, S. (2010 10 August) Can Losing a Pet Hurt More Than Losing a Spouse Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201008/can-losing-pet-hurt-more-losing-spouse
Plummer Savas, L. (2014 15 January) Has Grief for a Dog Who Died Ever Overwhelmed You Retrieved from http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/pet-dog-death-loss-grief-mourning-support-groups-pet-memorials
Stewart, G. (n.d) You’re Not Crazy You’re Mourning: Grief from the Loss of Your Dog Retreieved from https://grishastewart.com/pet-loss-grief/
Edited by: Kim Rooney/Steffany I.