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  • Holly Leake

"It's Never Just a Dog"

Photo Credit Darren Glanville

Dedicated to Jill, Romy and all the dogs that have been loved and lost. They are never forgotten.

"We should never underestimate the powerful draw of a bond with a being that loves us unconditionally, asking very little in return. Losing this comfort and source of joy can be incomprehensible.” – Linda Lipshutz, M.S., LCSW, from The Huffington Post

No one can prepare you for losing your best friend. Even though we know it's inevitable, there is a part of us that thinks it is in the very distant future. The truth is there is just never enough time. The years fly by and we wish with every fibre of our being, to turn back time and just try to live in the moment, appreciating every second we can possibly get. A world, without them in it, is unthinkable. How do we happily exist in a world where they don't?

If someone ever asked what the hardest thing about having a dog is, I think many would agree that saying goodbye is the hardest. We have no doubt that the pain of loss is worth the joy we felt when they were with us but that doesn't make it any easier. Maybe for some it isn't the goodbye that's most difficult but rather the strange quietness of the home and the sudden feeling of emptiness. Or maybe the short lived moments where we temporarily forget that they are gone and half expect them to be lying at the bottom of the bed or greeting us when we return home. No matter what we struggle with most, we know one thing for sure, the dog changed us and we will never be the same again.

Although there are so many things we miss about them, it is often the quirks that once annoyed us, that now make our hearts ache and yearn for one more moment. The wiping of snot on your arm, the total disregard for personal space, the rolling in animal poo, the reluctance to go the toilet in the rain and the running in the opposite direction when you call them, all become fond memories that make us smile, as we hold back the tears.

We think about those times and regret every moment we felt frustrated with them or too distracted to give them attention. It's difficult not to kick ourselves for not fully appreciating every minute they were here but then we always figured there would be more time. If we have had rescues one of our biggest regrets will be wishing we found them sooner so we could have loved them for longer.

One of the most difficult things about losing our best friend is the belittling of our emotions by others. "It's just a dog". "You can just buy another" "You didn't have the dog that long". "You need to move on now it's not as if it was a family member". "I don't understand why you are still upset". "It's not like losing a child".

These kind of comments wound us deeply because for most, they are all untrue. They are our family members. They are our closest friends. For many they are our babies, whether or not we have children. How can our love for them possibly be measured? It can't be, especially not by others. Author of the book Marley and Me, John Grogan, even expressed that losing his dog caused a grief he had never experienced before despite losing relatives. I know ones that have grieved more over their dog's death than a family member and have then felt guilty and ridiculous. We shouldn't feel this way. All that matters, is the love and loss we feel in our hearts. We need to grieve the loss of a loved one regardless of their species, and this should be respected. We should never feel silly or over sensitive for loving them so much.

"Grief is the reminder that love was present and that even if it's no longer in it's original form, that love still exists."- Michelle Maros

We go through the exact same stages of grief, such as denial, anger, guilt, despair, acceptance and resolution. The pain may come in waves or in a series of highs and lows. We can even be plagued with the same regrets, such as "I could have done more "or "I wasn't ready to lose them" . Grief stops us from thinking rationally because in reality, we did do our best and we would never have been ready to lose them. However, this does not stop the loneliness and depression from overwhelming us. It makes sense that the more intense our love for our dog was, the more intense the emotional pain will be when they are no longer with us.

The years we have with our dog are a gift. They teach us more than we could ever imagine and give us more love than we could ever possibly return. It seems so incredibly unjust that their time on earth is cut so short, when they have shown more love and humanity than most humans.

"Dogs lives are too short. Their only fault really." - Agnes Sligh Turnbull

When it's time, we need to remind ourselves that we did our best and that they left our world feeling incredibly loved beyond measure. In most situations, we have to make the unthinkable decision, that we rarely make for humans. It feels like murder in the moment, even though we want to end any pain or suffering. In reality, it's the last selfless things we can do for them and it is the right decision, despite the feelings of guilt and utter devastation we have to endure.

We then have to be kind to ourselves and allow time to grieve and heal. It takes patience and there's no set time limit, as grief affects each individual differently, even for those that can empathise from experiencing their own losses. Ignoring pain or bottling it up isn't healthy and we shouldn't hide our feelings to prevent judgement from others. It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to cry in public or in private.

We have to do whatever helps us to heal. For some this may be scattering the ashes somewhere special, planting a tree in their Garden, having a memory bear made, creating a photo album or placing a memorial plaque in a special place. Everyone grieves differently and no one should be judged for whatever they choose to do. It also helps to surround ourselves with people that understand our pain and avoid those that just don't appreciate the bond we had with our dog.

It can also be really beneficial to speak to a professional pet bereavement counselor or contact a helpline to strengthen the healing process. There is no shame in this and the fact that these professionals exist is evidence that the loss of a dog has a significant impact on the emotional well-being of so many people. Thankfully society is slowly recognising the importance of the dogs we share our lives with and beginning to appreciate that they play a huge part in people's ability to feel happy.

Things will get easier and the waves of pain and longing will be spread further apart and be shorter in duration. As time passes, we will still feel the same swell of love when we look at their photos and the tears still creep up on us at the most unexpected times when we picture their faces. We have to recognise that we were lucky to know them and to be a part of their lives in such a huge way. We were the best part of their day and they were the best part of ours and that's something we can cherish.

"What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” – Helen Keller.

Even when they are gone and years have passed, we never forget them because they are forever a part of us. They never really leave us because they live on in the memories we cherish. Anniversaries, smells, sights and even articles like this can still be an emotional trigger but it is also a reminder that we were so lucky to love something so much, we never wanted to say goodbye.

So never allow anyone to tell you how to feel and when to feel it. The pain and grief we endure, even years later, is justified by the overwhelming love we feel for our dog and we should do whatever we feel is necessary to recover.

No matter how much time passes, our love will last a lifetime because they were never just a dog to us.

In memory of Jill (Jillybean)

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