Any pet owner knows that losing their beloved four-legged friend can be just as devastating as losing a family member. And that’s because, for most pet parents, their dog is more than just their pet—they’re a cherished member of the family. The good news is that there are lots of ways to keep your dog’s memory alive.
“Our dogs are like family, and studies have shown that losing a pet can be just as painful as the death of a human family member,” says Shannon Kirkman, director of marketing for Animal Haven in New York. “Whether you had one year or 20 years with your pet, your time with them was probably filled with happiness…and celebrating those joyful memories can help you cope with your grief.”
Here are some ways to get through the grieving process and celebrate the joy and love that your dog brought into your life.
Connect with People Who Understand
According to Megan Marrs, founder of K9 of Mine, it can be very important to surround yourself with other dog lovers who can genuinely understand your pain during the grieving process.” If you don't have these kinds of relationships locally, there are plenty of people online who can relate to what you're going through, such as Facebook groups dedicated to mourning pet loss,” she adds.
But if talking to friends and family or participating in social media outlets to work through your grief isn’t enough, don’t be afraid to get some help. “There are many forms of grief that are completely normal in the wake of the loss of a beloved pet. Friends and family can help form a support network, but if severe symptoms of grief persist, it’s best to consult with your doctor about your feelings and ways to cope with this loss,” says a spokesperson from the ASPCA.
Volunteer Your Time
According to Kirkman, many volunteers join her organization following the loss of their dog. “Though some may find it difficult, others find that volunteering their time at an animal shelter is a wonderful way to honor their pet's life,” she explains. If you're not able to volunteer in person, many animal rescues also have memorial funds set up that allow people to donate money or supplies to the organization in their pet’s name; Animal Haven invites people to purchase a commemorative tile with their pet's name and a personalized message to display on a wall at the shelter. “These are really special ways to pay it forward and honor your lost pet,” she adds.
Give Back to Your Community
In addition to volunteering time, money, or supplies to a local animal shelter or rescue, you can also consider doing something to improve your local community as a way to honor your dog’s memory. “You may want to consider contacting your local parks and finding out if there is a way to donate funds for a park bench, dog-friendly drinking fountain, or some other kind of outdoor structure to serve as your dog’s memorial,” Marrs suggests. Some towns will offer opportunities to purchase plaques or bricks to serve as personalized memorials to be placed on downtown walking paths or other prominent areas.
Create a Photo Book
Marrs notes that creating a photo book of your favorite memories with your deceased dog can also be a cleansing experience. “I found this especially helpful when dealing with the loss of my own dog…seeing pictures of our time together over the years reminded me of what a joy-filled, wonderful, and long life my dog experienced,” she says. “Now whenever I miss him, I can open my photo book and remember all the fun we had together, rather than ruminate too much on his death and difficult final years.”
Commission a Work of Art
Another way to keep your dog’s memory alive in your home is to have a piece of art made after they’ve passed away. Erica Eriksdotter is a fine artist in the Washington, D.C. area that creates pet portraits; she starts by having a conversation with pet owners, looks through dozens of photos, and reads letters about what the pet meant to his or her family. “In the end, the pet’s spirit shines through the canvas. Many of my clients are moved to tears when they unwrap their paintings,” Eriksdotter says. “I see people are increasingly looking for unique ways to memorialize their pets, and many of my clients commission my work for a loved one because they know personalized artwork can have so much more meaning than an urn or a stone.”
Continue to Do What Your Dog Loved
Another special way to remember your dog is to set aside a day with your family to do all the things your dog loved most, whether it’s going for a walk in the park of playing in the sand on the beach. “This is an especially nice thing to do if you have younger children, as they also may be in need of ways to process their grief,” Marrs says.
Adopt Another Dog
Though this is an incredibly personal decision, some people find that opening their home to another dog in need can help the grieving process. “We've worked with all kinds of adopters who are adding another pet to their family following the loss of their previous pet. There’s no perfect formula for how long you should wait, if you should adopt another pet who reminds you of your old pet, or welcome a totally new and different pet into your home,” Kirkman concludes. “Take care of yourself, make decisions on your own time, and don't let anyone rush you.”