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I often talk about how to deal with the death of a dog. It’s not that I’m a gloomy person, or that I have an obsession with death. It’s simply that we have our dogs for so very little time, and it’s far less likely for a human to outlive his or her dog than the other way around. That means that people who love dogs will almost certainly, at some point, have to deal with the pain of losing their best friends. Some will experience the loss of a beloved dog several times over their lifetime.
When we lose a human that we’ve loved, we have certain things that we do to get ourselves past the initial grief. Usually, if the person we’ve lost is a family member, we plan a funeral. This is one way of working through the initial trauma. Then, we think of ways to remember that person. Maybe it means setting up a scholarship in their name, or placing “in memoriam” ads in the local newspaper on the anniversary of their death. If the person was a friend, we might make a donation to a charity that they supported.
We all have different ways of remembering our loved ones. If your loved one is a dog, you might not have a funeral, although you certainly can. There are any number of ways of remembering your dog, though. Here are 13 of them.
I have known more than a few people who were so distraught after losing their dog that they left matters in the hands of the animal hospital, saying “Yes” when asked if they would like to have the hospital look after the remains.
I don’t know anyone who was ever happy with the decision later on.
I think it’s always best to choose a resting place. Whether that means placing our dog’s remains in a pet cemetery, burying him in your backyard, or having him cremated and either keeping the ashes or scattering them, that’s up to you. Knowing that you have a place where you can go to visit, and remember the good times, though, can go a long way toward helping you to heal, and can be a wonderful way of remembering your dog.
I’ve known people who have actually created entire memorial gardens around a dog’s burial site. Others simply place a stone, or choose a site beneath a tree. It’s whatever works for you. And I’m not saying that you can’t leave it up to the animal hospital if it’s what you truly want, just that I’ve never known anyone who didn’t regret it.
Obituaries for humans aren’t what they used to be. In years gone by, you’d read about the date of birth, the date of death, and the names and familial relationships of the survivors. Today, you’re more likely to read things like, “She loved going to bingo, knitting, and spending time with her grandchildren. Anyone who came to her house could count on a cup of tea and a plate of cookies, and would probably be invited to stay and watch her favorite TV show, Wheel of Fortune. She took pride in keeping an immaculate home, and decorated like crazy for Christmas. She had a riotous sense of humor, and loved to laugh.”
So, why would you write a similar obituary for your dog?
It’s because, over time, memory fades. When my friend Neila lost her Rottweiler, Dennis, she said to me, “Ash, I’ve had so many dogs, I’m afraid that I’ll forget what was special about Dennis. I’m scared that I’ll forget how he used to steal my spatulas and hide them under chair cushions, and how he’d rather have bananas than any other treat, and how he had that ratty old towel that was his favorite toy and he’d sit in front of the washer any time I had to launder it, and…”
And then, of course, she lost it.
I told her, “Neila, write it down. Write down everything about Dennis. You’ll have something you can always go back to.”
Writing an obituary is like taking a journey back through your dog’s life. When was he born? When did he die? What did he like to do? Who were the people he loved the most? Did he have a favorite food? A favorite toy? Was there something he used to do that you found comical?
Write it all down. You can post it online at any number of pet memorial sites, or just print it off and keep it in a box with mementos like his collar and tags. What’s written down can never be forgotten.
This can mean having a funeral, or just doing something by yourself. Letting go formally helps you to move on. You could invite friends and family who love you, and loved your dog, to a celebration of life (that’s actually the term that human funeral directors prefer these days), or it could be as understated as scattering your dog’s ashes, finding a place for the urn containing the ashes, or standing over the burial site and saying “Goodbye; I love you.”
Again, it’s whatever works for you.
This doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the memorial garden I mentioned before, and it doesn’t even have to be on the spot where your dog is buried. It’s a symbol: life in the face of death. You can plant a tree, a shrub, or some flower bulbs in honor of your dog. Whenever you look at the new growth, you’ll have a way of remembering your dog.
Scrapbooking is a huge hobby these days, and craft shops are full of wonderful papers, stickers, and other things that you can use to create a memory book. You almost certainly have photos of your dog, so sit down and pick out some of the best. Then get to work with your glue and scissors, and make a memory book. Go online and find beautiful poems about dogs to include in the book. Write down things that you remember about your dog. Think up captions that are funny, serious, descriptive, and more. Create a story that you can look back on.
You know how they say that nothing on the Internet ever goes away? Well, it’s true! So if you’re not “old school” enough to want to make a memory book, then set up a website. Post all those “selfies” you took of you and your dog. Ask your friends to find photos you’ve shared with them, and post those photos, as well. You might even rediscover things you’ve thought you’d forgotten! At the very least, you might see your dog in a whole new way – the way your friends saw him.
Okay, I don’t want you out there competing with me, all right?
I’m just kidding. I think it would be great if you wrote a blog about your best buddy. Pouring out your feelings can be a fantastic way of remembering your dog, and it might even lead you to want to write more about dogs. Or write more about something else; there are no rules. You can easily set up a blog using WordPress or other sites for bloggers, and doing so might help to get you through the initial grief. You don’t have to continue blogging if you don’t want to, but on the other hand, you might find that, having started, you’d like to keep it up.
If you’ve got pictures, and short video clips, you might want to make a two-three minute video as a way of remembering your dog. You can set it to music and upload it to YouTube. There are so many wonderful songs that beautifully express the way we feel about our dogs. My personal favorite is Garth Brooks’s “The Dance,” and I’m also partial to his “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” I also like Willie Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind,” The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” and Collin Raye’s “Let the World Stop Turning.”
Before you use music, though, make sure that you’re doing so legally. You can find the ins and outs of legal use at this site.
Since your dog was such a presence in your life, why not remember him in a piece of art? Something that you can look at every day, and remember your dog. You can do this by creating a beautiful plaque with his picture and paw prints, or even by commissioning a painting. Some people even request that the painter include some of their dog’s ashes in the paint, so it’s an actual, physical reminder of everything that the dog brought into their lives.
Another way of including your dog’s ashes in a permanent memorial is to have a sculpture made, and to include some of his ashes in that sculpture.
Your dog was a gem, right? Well, you can actually remember your dog by having a gem made out of some of his ashes. Depending on the type and quality of gem you want to have made, this can be a relatively inexpensive procedure, or it can run into the thousands of dollars. There are companies that will do it for you, though, and you can have your gem made into jewelry that you can wear, and that way, keep your dog close to you for always.
My friends come from a variety of backgrounds. I have friends who live in penthouses, and friends who have, from time to time, occupied jail cells. And a lot of friends who fall somewhere between. I love all of them.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about my friend Art, because his background is nobody’s business. I will say, though, that Art has a lot of tattoos.
I know that tattoos are pretty mainstream right now, but most of Art’s tattoos are… um… well… prison quality.
Art had an American Staffordshire Terrier (and despite the breed, I want to tell you right now that Art has never had what you’d call “drug dogs” – if he had, he wouldn’t be my friend) named Lily. When Lily died, Art added a tattoo – one of far better quality. He’d taken a photo of Lily to a genuine tattoo artist, and said, “Make it happen.”
The result was a head and shoulders image of Lily, and the artist just absolutely captured her! Her beauty, her sweet nature, everything that was Lily is now permanently etched on Art’s forearm. I’m not really big on tattoos, but I have to say that Art has some kickass ink with the representation of Lily.
If you like body art, this could be a great way of remembering your dog.
I think one of the best ways of remembering your dog is simply to pay it forward. If you got your dog from an animal shelter or a rescue organization, make a donation to the facility. If your dog died from cancer, make a donation to a foundation that researches cancer in dogs. If your dog died as the result of an accident, make a donation to an animal hospital to be used to help dogs whose humans might not be able to afford the costs of veterinary care.
Those are just some ideas. Perhaps you have thoughts on how to remember a beloved dog. Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve done, or what you would do.
Funerals, memorial services, charitable donations, memory books, videos, etc. are all ways of remembering your dog. Some of these suggestions might “speak” to you, and you might be saying, “Yes, I want to get going on that right away!” Or, you might need some time to decide what’s perfect for you and for the dog that you’ve lost.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way of grieving, and no right or wrong way of remembering your dog. It’s all about helping you to feel less alone. It’s whatever works.
If you’ve lost a dog, I hope that these suggestions have been helpful. I’ve lost so many dogs, and if anything I’ve said here has helped you in any way, then I’m very glad that I wrote this post.
Stay strong. I know it sounds impossible, but it will get better. My thoughts and prayers are with you.