A picture of rocco in better days, 1/27/2010-10/19/2023

Reading up on Reddit, you’d think that losing a dog isn’t that big of a deal. Forums are packed with people complaining about their animal and wanting to rehome it, or regretting getting a pet at all. For others however, losing a pet is like losing a beloved family member.

This article is addressed not just to those who have lost a family member, but for those who know they have experienced the penacle of dogdom. When you have found and loved your furry soul mate, that beloved jewel of a dog is called a “heart dog.” When you lose one, it can be devastating.

There can be no doubt that Rocco was our heart dog. Fate itself brought him into our lives, and from his very first breath with us he was a joy. We adventured together for almost 14 years, and shared everything from vacations and dog sports to family tragedies and disasters.

He was a champion through it all, and when he made it clear that he was ready to leave this plane, the fact is the rest of us weren’t quite ready yet. I guess you’re never ready. Where do you go from here, when you’ve lost something so beautiful?

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

If anyone has the gall to tell you it was “just a dog” two months later, three months later, 6 months later, 10 years later…those people have never had a heart dog. Forgive them. If they’ve never known such joy, they can’t possibly understand such sorrow.

Although you may not bring it up on a daily basis, you’ll remember that dog forever. A part of you is going to be sad they are no longer with you forever. Grieving them is normal. Crying about them is normal. Grief often comes in waves, farther and farther apart as time goes on, but no less painful when they hit.

If you do find yourself unable to move forward in life as you grieve, however, it may be kindest to yourself to find a therapist to talk to. Your beloved pet would not want you to spend the rest of your life crying.

Pause on a New Dog

A recurring theme I saw as a dog groomer was a grieving owner trying to fill the void of their loss with a new puppy, and then being disappointed with their puppy. The truth is, even if you got the exact same breed from the exact same line as your past dog, you’re going to get a different dog.

No one could ever replace Rocco, and if I were to get a new puppy with the expectation that he follow in the footsteps of Rocco, that poor pup would be in a lot of trouble.

Wait on a new dog until you are able to accept a new personality in your heart. A new dog is going to be a different dog. They may not like the same things your other dog did. They may have new habits. They may be harder or easier to train.

Don’t get another dog until your heart has healed enough to see a dog for what they could be in their own right.

Create a Memorial

Many people recommend scrap booking, journaling, or perhaps making a shadow box when a loved one is lost. It’s a great way to capture the memory of that loved one, while also giving you a chance to think about your memories. It’s great for dogs too.

I knew that I would want something big to remember Rocco by after he passed on, and this blog is that memorial. I also did a lot of holiday stuff in advance, such as his Christmas list, knowing he might not be there to see it. It’s comforting to see him still share one last holiday with us, even though he’s gone now.

When Rocco passed, we donated his heart medications to a mercy clinic that helps urgent cases. Although Rocco no longer needs these medications, it was a huge comfort that his medications would help another cardiac patient live a healthier, longer life. Who knows, perhaps the dog that was helped was another person’s heart dog, and they got some precious bonus months out of it.

Remember Self Care

When you are hurting, it’s easy to neglect yourself. This is the time to go hiking and soak up the healing nature of trees. This is the time to take a mental health day off from work. Whatever it is you do to help yourself heal, now is the time to do it.

If you are a part of a large family, you may be spending a significant amount of time helping your other pets, kids or partner through their grief. While this is something that you certainly should do, make sure to take time for yourself as well.

Grieving is a process. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There isn’t a set amount of time. Do not allow other people to tell you how you should feel. Don’t even let yourself tell you how you should feel. Healing comes with time, but being able to laugh and smile again doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten your pup.

Some very helpful resources for those suffering from pet loss:

Rainbow Bridge Raina (Bring Tissues. No one gets out unaffected.)

Pet Loss Support Association

Pet Loss Forum (A place to talk openly about your grief.)

If you want to talk about your lost pets, feel free to drop by our comment section too. We’re always happy to support you, and yes it’s totally fine if your lost pet isn’t a chihuahua.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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