Pet Loss and Grief - Articles Archive

Pet Bereavement

A lot of us have pets that we love dearly. There is an unspoken bond that those without a pet struggle to grasp and relate to. Their love is unconditional, and it’s rare for us to receive that from any human being; aside from unconditional love, we feel like heroes because they are dependent on us. We are responsible for their happiness and wellbeing; we feed them, walk them, clean up after them, teach them tricks, cuddle with them, and on and on the list goes. Though not everyone who owns pets are parents, pets have a way of bringing out our core human nature of being loving and responsible.

 

In this life, everybody receives the same fate. If there is life, there is death. Pets are included in that circle. Unfortunately, the lives of pets are not as long as humans’ which often makes it not only unbearable for us to witness the passing of our beloved pets, but also inevitable.

 

It will always be hard to cope with the death of a loved one, and most people don’t realize the impact that the loss of their pets will bring to their lives. The pain and the grief will always be there regardless of how much time passes because a pet is such an important part of our life..

 

Not everybody, especially those who don’t have pets, understands the emotional turmoil the death of a pet will cause. Even the toughest of people are affected when their pet passes. Only the pet owners know what kind of bond they had with their pets so it takes another pet owner who has lost a pet to understand what it feels like. This is very important because it’s easy to dismiss the thought of grieving over a pet because the pet is not a person, and some people lack the opportunity to develop that bond with a pet; even though they’re not people, they are still capable of loving and building memories.

 

The death of a pet also comes with the decision of how to bury their body. Fortunately, pet cremation is possible especially for people who don’t have any space to bury their pet. The great thing about this service is that it is simple, professional, and affordable.

 

Some pet owners who lose their pets would love something to remember them by. When some people bury their deceased pets in the backyard, they may plant a tree in their memory. Some people paint a portrait of them with their pet. Regardless of the pain that losing a pet can cause, the joy and happiness that they bring to our lives on a daily basis, and the memories created, make it worthwhile.

 

Oftentimes, people express the feeling of being judged when they communicate with others about the loss of their pet, which causes it to become more difficult to for people to open up moving forward. For some people, their pets are their sole companions, which can make it particularly difficult to be alone, with no one else to comfort and understand what you are going through. Luckily, there are several companies, just like People & Pets, who supports people who lost their pets by talking to them and helping them cope. The key to this is being open about your struggles and seeking help when you need it; on our website we share a vast list of resources that you are welcome to explore in order to help cope with your pet bereavement.

 

If you never experienced losing a pet, give space, privacy, and support to those who are going through it. You may also want to avoid saying things such as, “It’s only an animal.” as this can make the individual feel even more isolated and unhappy. Every pet owner has a unique bond and experience with their pet, so it is important to treat the pet owner with kindness and compassion.

 

They say that a pet will love you unconditionally, which makes losing one even more difficult. It takes a great support system to help you cope, which can be found via your family and friends, or, strangers who have also lost a pest. Most importantly, please know that you are not alone and that you can always reach out.

 

If you would like to listen to Dr. Michael O’Donoghue speak about the difficulties surrounding pet bereavement, please do listen to a recent interview he gave below.

 

 

Every pet owner dreads the time they have to say goodbye to their beloved companions.

It’s a life event that people don’t like to think about and most people don’t know how to handle with sensitivity. Our very own Dr. Michael O’Donoghue appeared on Channel 7’s Sunrise to talk about this very topic.

(skip to video clip and transcript)

Those grieving often suffer in silence because the lack of understanding in the outside world means sympathy is hard to come by.  Pet owners are often told, “it’s just an animal” or “you can always get another one” – comments which can understandably be hard to hear.

In reality, their pet was a family member, a source of constant companionship, a staple in the owner’s daily life, so much so that when they pass away the loss leaves a gaping hole in their routine and heart.

The loss of a pet is something that many go through quietly. Dr. Michael O’Donoghue aims to help people in this difficult time, by connecting grieving pet owners with the support they need. He highly recommends reaching out to qualified professionals who truly understand the pain and grief an individual is going through.

Video: The Weekend Sunrise team discuss dealing with the death of a beloved family pet on Australia’s number 1 Breakfast Show, with guest expert Dr Michael O’Donoghue



(view and share on facebook)

Resources & Support

Counselling: If you are dealing with the loss of a pet and need to speak to a professional, you can call Australia’s first 24/7 hotline on 1300 431 450  or find a qualified pet loss counsellor by browsing the profiles on our pet loss support website.

Sympathy Cards: Or, if you know of someone who has suffered the loss of a pet and want to show your sympathy, Dr Michael O’Donoghue has also produced a range of pet sympathy cards specifically designed to offer support and sympathy to grieving pet owners, including the contact details of qualified professionals should they wish to reach out.

Interview Transcript

Monique Wright: Those who have never owned or loved a pet might be surprised to know that losing an animal family member can bring the same sort of sadness and emotion as losing a close human.

Andrew O’Keefe:  What’s worse, is many don’t realize what pet owners feel and go through after losing their buddy and expect them to just snap out of it and get over the grief.  But there is help at hand.  Joining us in Brisbane is vet and pet counsellor, Dr. Michael O’Donoghue and his dog Rainbow.  Also here in studio is Sandra Nguyen, who recently lost her beloved British Shorthair, Chardonnay. Sandra – thanks for joining us – you only lost Chardonnay last week, I’m sorry about that.  It’s very sudden, obviously, when this happens. Very hard.  What have you been feeling since then?

Sandra Nguyen: I think, obviously, you get really sad, but I think that one of the initial emotions is guilt. I wonder if there is something I could have done.  Should I have picked up something sooner? Was it my fault?

Andrew O’Keefe: How did Chardonnay die?

Sandra Nguyen: Her lungs actually failed quite suddenly.

Monique Wright: You work with animals so you are in an environment where, I would imagine, that your co-workers would appreciate the magnitude of losing her, but what about outside of that?  We hear that people are told it’s only an animal, it’s only a pet, you can get another one.  Where really you need time to grieve for the cat that you love and that has been your mate for the past 12 years.

Sandra Nguyen: Yeah, exactly right.  That’s exactly right.  The companionship that she showed us for the last 12 years, losing that is really like losing a friend.  Even just little things like you go to feed her and she’s not there anymore.  You almost feel that grief again and relive the loss.

Andrew O’Keefe: I remember when the cleaner let Bertie out of his cage when we were young, and mum replaced Bertie very quickly.  Bertie was a budgie.  I don’t feel like we had time to grieve.

Monique Wright: It was too soon.

Andrew O’Keefe: Yes.

Monique Wright: And see the effect, then you become not normal!  If you don’t deal with it properly.

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: No. Haha

Monique Wright: Which is where you come in Michael.  You’re a vet but you are also a co-founder of a counseling service for owners who have lost their pets. How do you help them?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: It’s just about bringing awareness to the depth of grief that people feel.  It’s sometimes it’s overwhelming and they really need to reach out to a professional who can help them work through the grief.

Andrew O’Keefe: Michael, does it differ according to the pet?  Obviously, people have very deep attachments to their dogs and cats but do you see people who feel grief upon losing a budgee, an axolotl or their ferret?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Oh, absolutely, it can be any kind of pet and the bond is still really strong.

Monique Wright: As Sandra pointed out, she’s reminded constantly as she goes to feed and to groom, or opening the door to let them in and out or walking a dog; which can have a greater impact on day to day life, than even losing a relative or a friend that you might not see every day.

Andrew O’Keefe: Because you’re there all the time.

Monique Wright: Exactly

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Absolutely.  They are such a huge part of your life.  They are with you 24 hours a day and when you lose them there is a big black hole in your life.

Andrew O’Keefe: Indeed.

Andrew O’Keefe: Michael, Rainbow has cancer.  So, you’re going no doubt going to have some pretty difficult decisions to make rather soon. This is another thing about losing a pet.  You have to sometimes take ownership of their death.

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Yeah, that certainly is a hard part. Even as a vet I can’t do everything to save her. You know, we’ve had some treatment and she’s responded really well… but facing the thought of losing our dear Rainbow, that’s very sad.

Andrew O’Keefe: How old is Rainbow?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Rainbow is 11 years old now.

Monique Wright: She’s absolutely gorgeous. What advice would you give people that are going through grief right now like Sandra?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: It’s important to find people around you that are supportive in a way that you can openly express your grief and feel secure and supported in that.  If you don’t have that it’s really important to reach out to professional help in somebody that really understands.

Andrew O’Keefe: Is it important to give them a good a send off as well?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Oh, yes.

Andrew O’Keefe: Did you have a funeral for Chardonnay, Sandra?

Sandra Nguyen: Well, when we get her ashes back, yes, we will scatter her

Monique Wright: Beautiful

Andrew O’Keefe: Terrific

Monique Wright: Thank you both very much. We really appreciate you coming in.

Andrew O’Keefe: It’s very interesting, thank you.

 

Grieving animal lovers can now call a national hotline that has been set up to connect people with qualified and experienced counsellor who can help them cope with their loss.

At the time of launch there were 10 service counsellors based across Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – with the service continuing to expand and offer connections with more and more professionals.

Dr Michael O’Donoghue established the service so that people could call 1300 431 450, 24 hours a day and talk to a specialised pet loss counsellor about the loss of any kind of companion animal.

Calls are answered by a receptionist 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and transferred to a suitable counsellor if there is one available on the line, otherwise the caller will be contacted by return phone within 24 hours.

Counselling rates may vary according to the service provider and will be discussed with the caller before proceeding. If you’re in need of help free of charge, Dr Michael O’Donoghue has also curated a list of counselling and support centres that offer complementary or donation based services – this list is available on the Grief and Bereavement Support page his Pet Loss Support website – Pets & People.

 

Read more:

IMAGE: Senior News Brisbane – June 2017

 

OTHER MEDIA MENTIONS:

UPDATE:

  • As of August 2018 this service now extends to New Zealand with the dedicated hotline 0800 114 421 available for local NZ callers.

If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We’ve been so close — we two — these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

— Author unknown

A loss of a pet is still a loss.

05/04/2017 9:22 PM AEST |

LINDSAY HOLMES
The author’s dog, Sapp, who loved going for rides and running on golf courses.

“U want to cancel bc ur dog back home died? Haha.”

A few months after I moved to New York in 2013, I learned that my beloved childhood yorkie, Sapp, passed away. I was supposed to go on a date that night ― my first one ever since moving to the city ― and I felt like I just couldn’t handle it. That was the text I got in response to suggesting we reschedule.

I went on the date because I felt bad inconveniencing him. (Ah, young Lindsay. Still had so much to learn.) Part of me hoped that it would be a good distraction. When I got there, I was met with more condescension about my emotions.

Unsurprisingly, the dude didn’t last. But the impact of his dismissive attitude ― which made me feel like I was ridiculous for being sad over my pet ― did. And it wasn’t until a few months later that I actually processed (and cried) over Sapp being gone.

A simple Google search for “pet grief” yields millions of results, proof that many people mourn the loss of a pet. The theme even permeates pop culture: Books and movies have long explored what happens when our beloved dogs predecease us, from classics like “Old Yeller” and “Lassie” to newer tales like Marley and Me and A Dog’s Purpose.

But people can still report feeling embarrassed for grieving a furry friend, especially when others make insensitive comments.

Let’s make one thing clear: There’s nothing frivolous about being in mourning. It’s a lesson I wish I’d understood then. Pets can be just as important as human family members and losing them can be devastating.

Research suggests that human beings feel connected to their furry friends and they feel bonded to us, too. So it makes sense that we feel the magnitude of their passing when they’re gone.

“We need to be more sensitive to pet loss and the grief surrounding it,” grief expert Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and chair of the American Psychotherapy Association, told me. “Pets can be in our lives for years. When that constant companion is all of a sudden gone, the grief is not only real but it can be profound.”

Reidenberg stresses the first step to moving forward from the loss is just acknowledging that you’re grieving. Below are a few other tips he says might also help:

Don’t set a time limit on how long you mourn.

Just let the process happen. “If you push it too fast it may come back down the road,” Reidenberg said. “If you delay it, you may find it coming out in different ways, such as irritability, lack of concentration, poor quality of work or trouble in relationships.”

Don’t compare your grief to someone else’s

“If a friend lost their pet and seemed to get over it in a few days but two weeks into your loss and you are still crying, that’s okay,” Reidenberg said. “We are all different in how we process our feelings so be okay being with your grief process.”

Decide what to do with your pet’s things

Some people want to leave their pet’s water dish out, others want to box it up immediately. There’s no one right way to do it. “What is important is to do what makes you comfortable when you are hurting,” Reidenberg explained.

Keep a photo of your pet around

“Just because our pets are gone does not mean you have to totally remove them from your life,” he said. That could mean putting up photos of your furry friend on your desk or keeping an image of them as your phone background.

Seek support if necessary

There are pet loss groups that can help if you’re having difficulties coping. If the loss begins to interfere with your everyday life, Reidenberg recommends reaching out to a mental health professional.

The bottom line, Reidenberg says, is to remember that your emotions may be unexpected but they’re still valid. They certainly were for me.

When I went through a painful breakup, had a bad cold, was dealing with anxiety or just needed a companion, my dog was there. I never spent time imagining a world where he wouldn’t be. The reality of that was difficult to process at first.

A loss of a pet is still a loss. And you’re allowed to grieve over it.

Credits: Virginia State Parks on flickr

By MARIA SIKOUTRIS DI IORIO

Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support and unconditional love.  If you understand this connection between human and animal, then you understand that coping with loss and grief of a pet is no different than when a person you love dies.  It’s natural for family and friends to express sorrow for your loss for a human, unfortunately, many people do not understand how important animals can be in people’s lives.  Many people may not even understand why you are grieving over the loss of your pet.

People consider their pet as part of the family.  They oftentimes will celebrate their pets’ birthdays, take pictures with them and include them in family activities.

The grieving process is as individual as the person, and can last for days and yet for another for years.  The grieving process is very much the same as when losing a close family member or loved one.  The Kubler-Ross model, otherwise known as the five stages of grief include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.  You can experience all five stages and then begin the process from the beginning again.  There is no timetable.

The loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death.  The child may blame themselves, their parents, or the veterinarian for not saving the pet.  Children may have feelings of depression, sadness and fear that other people they love may also be taken away from them.  Trying to protect your child by saying their pet ran away can cause feeling of betrayal once they learn the truth.  Expressing your own grief and allowing your child to grieve is a healthy way to approach the loss and the sadness.  It is healthy to be able to talk about your pet and reminisce about all the happy times instead of avoiding the topic. Encourage your child to talk about your pet. You can prepare a memorial for your pet and have your child write a letter to their pet… it can be a cathartic experience for them.

Many people ask the question of whether they should replace their pet immediately.  Rushing into this decision does not allow your child or other family members to experience the loss and sadness which is part of life.  You will know when the right time is to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve.

Owning a pet provides many wonderful experiences including companionship, support and love. Pets have their own personalities and we grow to love them deeply. Do not allow others to minimize your loss when they say “it was just a pet”.  Owning and caring for a pet takes a truly special individual.  Take your time with your grief.

There are many wonderful pet-support groups and hotlines.  If you find yourself unable to cope, you can seek counseling.

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.

I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her You will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to Heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, ‘To Meredith’ in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies.’ Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in Heaven.

Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you.

I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love.

Love,

God

By JESSICA PIERCE
Published: September 22, 2012


ODY died peacefully last year, Nov. 29. He was 14 and a half. Truth be told, Ody didn’t just die. I killed him. I paid a vet to come to my house and inject a chemical solution into a vein in Ody’s back leg.

People ask me how I knew it was time. There was no watershed, but a slow accumulation of miseries. Ody had been in serious decline for six months. Partial paralysis of his laryngeal muscles made it hard for him to breathe, and he would begin to pant at the slightest exertion. His once deep tenor bark had transformed into a raspy Darth Vader croak. The signals from his addled brain often failed to reach his body, so when I walked him he left a Hansel and Gretel trail of pee and poop behind him. His muscles atrophied, and his walk was crab-like and unsteady. He grew increasingly uninterested in food and people, his two great passions. Worst of all, he began falling more and more frequently and was unable to get up by himself.

Toward the end, I would wake in the night to scuffling sounds. I’d search the house and find Ody trapped behind the piano or tangled up in the exercise equipment. It was on the fourth such night that my husband said: “It’s time. We can’t do this to Ody anymore.”

Euthanasia is deeply entrenched in the culture of pet keeping in America, and for the vast majority of companion animals, death will be orchestrated by a human caretaker, the time and date chosen in advance and not, as it were, decided by “nature” or some higher power. Yet despite its ubiquity, we rarely question its moral appropriateness.

Euthanasia is typically thought of as a choice between suffering and death — and, indeed, it can offer relief from unyielding pain. But death is too often prescribed as a de facto treatment for suffering when much less aggressive possibilities exist. We can ease our animals into the valley of death, rather than abruptly shoving them off the cliff.

Pain is the barometer most often used to assess whether an animal should be euthanized, and one of the most important improvements we can make in caring for our pets is to provide them with better palliative care. Untreated or undertreated pain is epidemic among companion animals. Kevin Stafford, an authority on veterinary ethics, estimates that 10 million dogs in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis but that only a small fraction get treatment. Of those dogs that do, he says, many are treated ineffectually or are given too little pain medicine for too short a time. The only treatment many arthritic dogs receive is euthanasia.

Effective and affordable pain treatments for animals are available; many human pain drugs were developed using animals. We can also lessen the pain for ailing pets with structural alterations to our homes, like ramps.

Why, then, are so many animals in pain? The reasons are largely cultural. Some veterinarians, particularly older ones, have been taught that animals don’t feel pain (the same convenient skepticism under which the animal research juggernaut labors). Few vets specialize in palliative care, and treating pain effectively takes a tenacity that harried and underpaid vets may find difficult to muster on a daily basis. And pet owners can be inattentive, even lazy.

To be sure, animal pain can be tricky to recognize and treat. Cats and rabbits are notorious for their so-called stoicism, but dogs, too, may not display pain in ways we easily see. As with humans, responses to pain vary. Effective pain management often requires trial and error with various types of drugs, as well as the use of non-drug therapies like weight management, controlled exercise, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture and nutritional supplements.

Pain must be understood broadly, as it is in human medicine, to include psychological suffering. Ody’s physical ailments were mostly caused by neurological decline. The fact that he wasn’t obviously in physical pain made the decision to euthanize a difficult one, because I was left to make an imperfect judgment about his overall well-being.

Quality-of-life assessments have long been used within human end-of-life care, and similar tools for assessing our animals are increasingly available, well-refined and imminently useful. One nice example is the veterinarian Alice Villalobos’s “Pawspice” program, which directs pet owners to assess their pet on a 1-to-10 scale on seven measures — hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and “more good days than bad” — with the lowest number being the worst. During Ody’s final decline, I would force myself to think through this assessment. It was hard to be honest. Ody’s score just kept getting lower. But the exercise at least offered a measure of objective

One of the most troublesome moral challenges involves money. We could say that money shouldn’t matter when an animal’s life is in the balance, but this is neither realistic nor fair to pet owners. We might feel a justified repugnance toward the financially well-positioned pet owner who refuses to cough up the money for an antibiotic or inexpensive pain medicine. But the question of money can be gut-wrenching, as when prolonged care for an ill animal is balanced against college education for a child. Luckily, basic palliative care is not particularly expensive, and the emerging field of animal hospice will allow more owners to give respite to their dying animals without going broke.

AT animal hospice, the therapeutic agenda is not abandoned, but its goals shift, sometimes subtly, from cure to compassionate care and comfort. We put aside the desire to fix — the stem-cell treatments, joint replacements, X-rays and biopsies, and the other marvels of modern veterinary medicine — and focus instead on managing pain and allowing death to unfold in its own time. When things get really ugly, we retain the option — still largely unavailable for our human loved ones — of a gentle release.

Unfortunately, the love we feel for our animals can inure us to their suffering. We may wait for our animal to “tell us she is ready,” but our love can make it hard to hear her cries. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Ody, so I sugarcoated his suffering. I focused on care-giving, feeling vindicated when he showed his typical interest in hot dogs and processed cheese. When, prodded by my husband, I finally called the euthanasia vet, I asked her to come the following day. I need one more day with Ody, to say goodbye, I thought. After realizing that this extra day was for me, not for Ody, I called back, and when I was able to control my voice, I asked her to come as soon as she could.

When the vet arrived at our house that night to perform the procedure, Ody was crouched under the piano, peering out at the family and friends gathered to say farewell. Normally he was drawn to people, but not this night. I watched him turn and stumble off. I followed him onto the flagstone patio, where he stood still, his back legs with their awkward bent. It was a bitterly cold night. I sat next to him and wrapped my arms around his chest and buried my face in the soft red fur of his neck. I didn’t want this moment to end. A few minutes later, my husband opened the door and called, “The vet’s ready.” I sat for another long moment with Ody and then got up and moved toward the door, beckoning him after me. He stood still, looking into the dark. I got behind him and gently touched his back, urging him on.


Jessica Pierce is a bioethicist and the author of “The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 23, 2012, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: Deciding When a Pet Has Suffered Enough.

On Jan. 4, 11 years and 26 days after I walked out of an animal shelter in New Jersey with a little white and brown dog attached to the end of a brand-new leash, she died. On this day, an undiagnosed tumor pressed down on Emily’s brain and told her that she needed to escape, which made her usually soft, cuddly and often napping body go wild, endangering herself and me. The humane thing to do was put her down.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that moment, or the searing grief that followed. But if I could go back in time to console myself, I would tell myself these six things:

Most people will say the wrong thing. They will talk about dogs they knew and loved and put down, too, or, if they haven’t walked through this long, lonely tunnel yet, about how they can’t possibly imagine losing their very alive pet, which reminds you that yours is dead. They will also ask how old she was, and when you say 15, they will say, “Well, it was a good long life,” as if the ending of it would be less painful because of how long you were together.

They may tell you other dog death stories, too, like the one about the dog who was so excited to be home from vacation that he bolted out of the car and was immediately run over while the whole family watched — stories that imply it could have been worse. They will shove shelter listings for other Jack Russell terriers at you, as if another dog could slip into that perfect little spot left by your beloved one-of-a-kind pet.

Guilt overwhelms. I still tell myself that I killed Emily, despite the veterinarian telling me, after her body had been taken away, while I gripped both a counter and a vet tech to keep from collapsing, that all four of her paws had been bloodied as she had clawed at the floor, the door and the ground during her manic and desperate attempt to get away from my home. There is guilt, too, over the relief of no longer having to take care of a dog who was on multiple medications and who had arthritis, two defective heart valves and pulmonary hypertension.

You will become unmoored. I adopted Emily soon after I became a freelance writer, and I wrote three books with her by my side. She was the metronome to my life. With her gone, I floated through a space she no longer occupied but haunted with every little white hair found on my blankets, on the floor, in my shoes. Once, in the first week following her death, I came up from the basement and looked at the spot where she would usually be waiting. I called for her with the foolish notion that she’d appear at the top of the stairs. But of course, no: just another sledgehammer reminder that she was really gone.

Grief is exhausting. Last fall, I ran two marathons and an ultramarathon. After Emily died, I couldn’t drag myself through three miles, not to mention find the energy to get out of bed, put on clothes that were not my pajamas and shower at regular intervals. I pushed off assignments because the idea of putting my fingers to the keyboard was inconceivable when Emily wasn’t sleeping on her bed in the corner of my office. These were wretched, grief-stained days, surrounded by a deafening silence.

It will get better. You won’t want to hear it, or believe it, because the pain is so suffocating. It does ease, though, almost without you noticing it.

But still, it slaps back. This may happen at predictable moments, such as when you decide to sell her crate, and sometimes not. Soon after Emily died, I got on a plane and went to Florida to bake out the pain with all-day poolside sessions punctuated by midday drinks. It worked, somewhat, but on my last night there, my face cracked open at the World of Disney store when I saw a mug with the character Stitch that said “brave” on one side and “loyal” on the other. Only the cashier noticed that I paid with tears and snot running down my face. I then ran out of the store to stare at a lake.

These days, I get up, I brush my teeth, I write, I run. I smile now and laugh sometimes. The pain still catches me, though, and I can now more clearly see why: I loved that dog, and in giving a scared, abused, imperfect Emily a home, she loved me back, and together our lives both bloomed. The loss of that joy is why the pain is so acute — and why, at some point in the maybe not so distant future, I’ll go back to that animal shelter with a brand-new leash, and do it all over again.