Ask Dr. Debra
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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
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.