At the beginning of 2022, my husband and I lost two dogs to chronic illness and old age within months of each other. Pina died in February, and Bruno died in July. We were not ready for the physical experience of letting go, and we were not expecting the level of grief that moved in.
It was debilitating. We called Bruno and Pina our “originals,” because they were the first dogs we adopted, they had traveled with us, were the reason we moved to a house with a yard, and gave us so much joy, laughter, and comfort throughout the time we had with them. Losing Pina first broke our hearts. She was the sweetest little dog, who flew under the radar but made herself known at the same time. She had a very deep bond with my husband and our dog Sesame. The day she died, it felt like our home was suddenly vacant. We were all different, we were all sad. Not only my husband and I, but our remaining dogs were clearly grieving the change. We didn’t know what to do next.
About three weeks later, we realized our dog Sesame was incredibly lonely with no one to play with him at his energy level, and we decided to adopt again. In honor of Pina, we specifically wanted a female dog, and we found her at Wags & Walks in Los Angeles. Her name was Apple, and she had just arrived at the facility. I drove from the desert to LA to meet her and adopted her that day. It was a very healing experience, and bringing her home was the boost we all needed to get through and move on. She matched Sesame’s energy, and seeing him play again was a heart salve.
A few months later Bruno passed away, and the grief from that loss really knocked me off my feet. Bruno was my heart dog—he was full of behavior issues and he’d been adopted and returned once before, but he was perfect for us. Adopting him changed my life and prompted me to leave the corporate world and pursue work in the animal welfare field, and it was because of him I became an advocate for dogs with higher needs. Saying goodbye to him left me feeling like I was carrying a ton of bricks on my shoulders. Despite knowing it was time for him to go (he was 19 with chronic health issues) and that we had given him a great life, given him all the love he deserved, and spoiled him rotten, I still felt like I was lost in a windstorm.
I began looking for pet grief resources around this time, wondering if any existed. I found an Instagram account called Pet Loss Psychology helpful, and speaking to other pet parents about the loss helped lighten the load of grief I was feeling. I found that just talking about it eventually made the loss a reality I could deal with, and my heart found a place to store those memories of Pina and Bruno and allowed me to move on.
“When the family pet is lost, the grief is the same as and sometimes even more than ordinary human relationships.” —Sandra Beyerle
Dealing with the loss of a companion animal and the grief associated with it can be a lonely path to navigate. People without animals in their lives often don’t “get it” on the level we need them to, and sometimes the grieving period is so long, we feel bad or embarrassed continually sharing it with other pet parent friends. Plus, losing a pet removes us from things like seeing friends on dog walks, dog park groups, and other pet centric community activities we are involved in. Bottom line, it can be lonely.
Sandra Beyerle is a Pet Loss Grief Counselor located in Rancho Mirage, California, who agrees that talking to people can help, but that often more support is needed.
“For many people who have experienced deeply meaningful relationships with their companion animals, something more is often needed. Seeking out a compassionate therapist not only honors the process of grieving but can also shed light on the meaning of the relationship in one’s psyche. This is an important aspect of striving to know thyself—it’s often yet another gift from our lost companion.”
She says many people who do not have pets in their lives don’t grasp that “when the family pet is lost, the grief is the same as and sometimes even more than ordinary human relationships.”
You can reach out to Sandra or find other pet loss grief counselors in the Southern California area by visiting Petworks.com.
Ways to Start Coping
■ Donate items from a shelter or rescue wish list
■ Volunteer at a local shelter or rescue
■ Foster a pet
■ Foster to adopt
■ Look for pet loss grief support groups online or in your area
■ Seek out a professional counselor or therapist to find coping solutions