Skip to main content

4 Ways to Cope with Losing your Best (Pet) Friend

The subject of this post sat in my drafts for weeks: 4 Ways to Cope with Losing your Best (Pet) Friend. I'd written the title, and I knew what I wanted to write but I couldn't bring myself to actually do it... even though it was burning a hole in my heart since the day she passed nearly two months ago. 

A goldendoodle dog lying down panting with a smile on her face.
How do I begin? That was the biggest hang-up. There was no perfect place to begin because there were many things I wanted to say about her. There were no perfect topics to start the post because they were as varied as they were important; all were special things, all incredible. She was my best friend. 

It's difficult to deal with losing a pet. It's hard to mentally "let go" of a being you've taken care of for years. My dog is gone. My best friend isn't here anymore.

When God created dogs, he created a companion that he knew man or woman needed: a faithful, devoted, and happy sidekick. Which is probably the most perfect description of a best friend. Those are descriptives we strive to find in human friends but don't find consistently because humans are well, just that... human. We aren't perfect, we make mistakes, and we aren't there for our family and friends the way we should be. We're self-absorbed and busy and I'm top of my list for being selfish. Getting out of my own way is a daily struggle.

Fortunately for us, most pets aren't made that way. Especially pups. They are there for us at any time, at any moment of any day of their sweet existence. We write about our dogs, we talk about our dogs, we take pictures and post videos about our dogs because they are faithful, devoted, and happy pets. Basically, they act the way we humans should but fail to do.

All pets are a love offering, dropped into our laps, that we get to take care of. As we talk to them and hold them, shots of the feel-good hormone oxytocin are released into our bodies. This deeply connects us to them. And these love hormones also keep us from wanting to give them away when they destroy, steal, take, or hide things that they shouldn't. Which can be a daily occurrence. (I think they do this to gain attention because they love us so much!)

It's been two months since my dog, Sierra, left us and I'm still not sure if there is a right or wrong way to grieve a pet. But here's how I coped with losing my dog and what you can do to possibly ease the pain of losing your best pet friend.

Talk about your pet. This is key. Don't stop talking about your pet just because they're not there. They are still there... in your heart, soul, and mind. My husband and I still reference her when we're out for a walk remembering how she loved meeting humans more than other dogs. We talk about how we think we still see her in our peripheral vision in our home or "hear" her walking across the tile floor. Talking about our pets lets us expel pent-up feelings over losing them. Talking about our pets takes the edge of loss away from the front of our hearts. So, instead of feeling deep heartache every time you think of your pet, the words you speak turn your feelings into a deep "heart heal."

Look at the pictures. I only took about a million photos of my dog when she was alive. Along with my two sons, they are the other most oft-taken photos on my phone. I look at her pictures daily. I even received two beautiful Christmas ornaments with photos of her in them. They were front and center of my tree last year.  Healing comes from acceptance and I am accepting my pet's loss through looking at photos of her. I have a frame ready for a picture of her and will put that out as soon as I bring myself to print some photos. Look at pictures of your pet. Remind yourself of how much they were a part of your lives. They were invaluable.

Understand that love is never wasted. There is a great quote by C.S. Lewis that says this, "Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity." It's saying you don't have to receive love back to gain the benefits of love given; love doesn't come back to us void. Giving love is the highest form of any action. I mean, it's even the number one thing Jesus commanded us to do. But when it comes to pets, your pet most likely loved you back! There was no waste. I got to love my dog and was blessed to have that same love returned to me every day of the nearly 14 years she was with us.

Pet other pets. This one's pretty obvious. My desire to not only look at other dogs - but pet them - is at an all-time high right now. I try to pet most dogs I randomly pass on a walk, or in the street near my house. On one walk, a beautiful golden retriever found his way straight to me, and you better believe I was petting that sweet face! Find other animals, or other pets, just like the pet you lost to still feel connected to your late fur baby. Being able to pet other animals similar to the one you lost is a special thing. It's like re-entering the world after you've been sick. You're not quite whole yet, but getting back to life with things you used to do feels a little more exhilarating than usual. 

To me, dogs are the ultimate example of embodied unconditional love; selfless to their literal dying day. Sure, they have their precocious ways as a puppy. But they turn into unbelievable companions. Which is exactly what my dog was to me.

While these four coping options don't necessarily ameliorate the pet-sized hole in our hearts, they certainly lessen it which gives us a more functional existence as we navigate grief. Loss is a part of life. And if we didn't know loss, we couldn't measure our love. My sweet pup is gone, but I'm blessed I got to love her. Now, more than sadness, I feel thankful that I was given the chance to love her for as long as I did. What a gift!