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Ask Dr. Debra  [click here for archived articles]


Dear Dr. Debra,

I just had to put down my dog, Blackie, my companion of 13 years. I stayed with him, watching the life fade from his sweet, brown eyes, and petting him until the heartbreaking end. I know I did the right thing, and he’s no longer in pain. But I can’t stop crying. I keep seeing the empty look in his eyes. I feel so foolish, reacting this way over a pet, but I can’t help it. A friend told me to go out and get another dog, but I can’t imagine another one in his place.


Blackie’s grieving mommy



Dear Blackie’s Mommy,


I’m so sorry for the loss of Blackie. Reading your letter brought tears to my eyes, as I remembered the painful experience of putting down my cat. Animals come into our lives for such short times (compared to the human life span).  However, they teach us important lessons in loving, caring for another being, and about letting go.


You’ve lost more than just a dog; you’ve lost a “baby.”  Pets, especially dogs, can be sources of unconditional love. They just want to love us, be with us, and be loved (and fed) in return. Many times the bonds we form with our pets are almost as strong, and sometimes stronger, than those we have with our family.


It’s not foolish to have such strong feelings of grief; they’re normal. However, you won’t help yourself by criticizing your reaction to Blackie’s death. Instead, be kinder to yourself. Do things to nurture yourself through this difficult time. Also, talk to supportive friends and family members who’ve lost much-loved animal companions. Being able to share your feelings is important.


In addition to your grief, you are probably also suffering some trauma from watching Blackie die. Although I believe it’s important to be there with our animal companions when they pass, it’s also difficult for us. The transition from life to death is a profound experience. For our animals who are euthanized, it’s a peaceful, quick passing. But watching the lifelight fade from their eyes can be traumatizing for us, hence the flashbacks you are experiencing. The flashbacks should fade in a few days, although the grieving will take more time. If the flashbacks continue, you might consider seeing a counselor who specializes in trauma.


Each time you come home and Blackie isn’t bounding up to greet you, you will probably have that stab of pain. And that will last for a while. Eventually, you will become ready for a new animal companion, and the right one will find its way into your life. But first give yourself time for healing.


Take care,

Dr. Debra 


Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.

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