Grieving the loss of a dog, and how I learned to help myself and others

daisy hanging about

There are seriously so many photos I could show you of Daisy, but this one does capture her joyful-seeking nature so well, just hanging about in the sunshine, next to the blooming lavender she so loved to roll in, maybe thinking about the twelve pancakes she just stole from the kitchen bench, her eye probably on a pile of manure she’d like to tuck into next. A clown, through and through.

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I usually write something whenever we lose an animal, but Daisy’s loss (on February 10) was so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t do it. But this post is not just about Daisy, it’s about dealing with grief for an animal that has been as much, if not more, a part of the family as any human, and it’s about supporting others during times of loss too.

In our society, there is a culture of not valuing animals as much as we value humans. The laws of our country consider them to be ‘property’. There are ‘minimum standards’ of animal care in our legislation but these are, in my opinion, not nearly adequate enough as they don’t even begin to take into consideration an animal’s emotional welfare (boredom, loneliness, despair, fear). Indeed, many people still believe animals don’t even have emotions. It’s little wonder then that we don’t have recognised grief pathways when one of our four-legged loved ones dies.

We have a lot of animals, so we’re always going to lose a lot (something that distresses me every time we do lose one and I realise I will have to endure this pain over and over). But there is also truth in the fact that not every loss is the same, just as not every human loss will impact us in the same way. For me, there has never been an animal that would break me down (and open) as much as Daisy’s loss.

So what do we do?

In the depths of my crippling pain, I found comfort in the book Buddhism for Pet Lovers, by David Michie, largely because it gave me very practical steps on what to DO after the loss of Daisy. In Buddhist philosophy, when any living creature dies, their soul goes to the bardo (the space between lives) for up to seven weeks, and during this time you can influence the future life of your loved one. This is not dissimilar to the Catholic tradition of saying prayers for the deceased. There were specific things I could do: dedicating actions of merit to Daisy’s fortunate rebirth; donating to charitable organisations; saying mantras; meditating; and holding her close mentally and emotionally, continuously sending energy of good fortune.

Out of the blue, my writer friend Kim Wilkins (aka Kimberley Freeman), made a donation to the RSPCA on Daisy’s behalf and when the notification came to me it meant so much to know it wasn’t just me holding this vigil for Daisy. Support often comes from the outer reaches of our circles, I’ve noticed. Of course, my mother was holding great thoughts for Daisy (her granddog) and some friends too. There were several friends who held long conversations (in person or online) with me, who knew the pain and could validate it. These conversations were so necessary, taken with time and care, and never with a hint of hurrying me on. All of them turned up at just the right time and I’m so grateful for their care.

Recently, two of my friends have lost animals and I’ve done the same for them, making donations in their name. I now have an action plan for myself and for my friends in the future. So here it is. This is how I will support my friends when they lose a treasured animal friend.

  • I will make a donation to an animal charity in their name.
  • I will send them a bereavement card, just as I would with the loss of a human.
  • I will light a candle for their animal and I will say a prayer/mantra for them to move through the spiritual realm with ease and find only good fortune on the other side.
  • I will dedicate good works of merit to their animal’s name for the same reasons.
  • I will offer support and I will listen, allowing as much time and space as is needed to grieve.

Perhaps this list may help you too, if you have recently lost a furry friend or you know someone who has. Rituals are the guide maps through the big moments of our life. By embracing some of these, we might be able to start to navigate our way through the long, dark night of the soul after our best friend is gone.

We had Daisy cremated. She currently resides in the back of the wardrobe because on the day her ashes came back I simply couldn’t face them. But I have been building a garden, slowly, and it is nearly ready for her plaque to go out there. Daisy was such a huge fan of lying in the sun in the garden. I’m sure she’d approve.