It has been 6 months since the first dog’s death, Nugget. . He was 10 years old, a Japanese Spitz, and he succumbed to injuries from a tragic incident. After half a year, I still think of him everyday. Some days less, some days severe enough for me to break down in tears. Speaking about him always evokes strong emotions.
At 40 years of age, I have experienced losing relatives – grandparents, uncles, aunties, friends; I have suffered considerable physical pain – gastric ulcers, gout, and recently, a difficult recovery from tonsillectomy. I have endured mental stress from running SOSD, including defamation & slander necessitating legal action. But none of the pain and suffering compares to the grief, guilt, and heartbreak I experienced, and am still experiencing with the passing of Nugget.
I can’t help but ask: Why?
Why is the pain so intense?
Facing Your Dog’s Death: An Inevitability
All dog owners will have to face the inescapable – of saying goodbye to their canine companions one day – With a lifespan of 10- 20 years, it is very likely that they will leave this earth before we do.
The grief of losing your pet is something which only pet owners can understand. For people who have not owned a pet, witnessing the intense emotions which pet owners go through when their pets pass on is often bewildering. “It is only a dog”, they would say. But as dog owners, we know it is more than that.
It is not uncommon to hear dog owners tell you, that they are even sadder when their dog died, compared to their human relative. This is not to say that dog owners are unfeeling monsters detached from other humans. On the contrary, pet owners are some of the most empathetic people I have come across – towards both animals and humans. I believe that there are very logical and scientific reasons why dog owners feel the intense grief that they do, when they canine friends leave them.
There are many such articles about losing a dog – but I did not take reference from any of them. The 10 reasons I write about here, are entirely from my experience with my dog’s death.
1) You See Your Dogs Much More Than Your Friends or Relatives
Besides your spouse (and colleagues), there is probably no one else you see everyday. You move out from your parents’ place, your children move out. Our dogs are different. They are there waiting when we open our eyes; they are at home waiting for us excitedly when we return home everyday. We take for granted having them around; and when they are no longer there, the home environment changes.
2) You Were There From The Beginning Till The End
Many of us buy or adopt our canine friends as puppies – 2-4 months old. We watched them as they grew up, became a defiant adolescent, mellow down with age, then eventually, grow old, and die. We learn the entire life cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death through them. They are our windows to the realities of life, of impermanence. These realities, while universal, are extremely difficult to deal with. They evoke intense emotions from us – including grief, guilt, regret.
3) You Taught Them Life Lessons
You had to teach your puppy how to pee and poo in the right place; how to sit before a meal; how to walk on a leash. We are our dogs’ mentors and teachers, and we watched them blossom from clueless puppy to excellent canine citizen. Although we do not always say it, we are always proud of our dogs – their achievements are as much theirs and they are ours. It is no wonder that we love them as much as we do.
4) Dogs Are Like Our Little Children
Researchers have found that a dog’s intelligence is comparable to a 2-year old human’s, making them childlike, even in old age. From the day they come into our lives, to the day they leave, they act like toddlers. More often than not, we see them as our children. It is said that no parent should have to bury their children; but with pet owners, it will almost always happen – The day we adopt or buy our canine friend, we know that we will one day have to face our dog’s death.
5) Scientific Proof: Love Grows with Dogs
Studies have shown that when we look into a dog’s eyes, the levels of oxytocin increases in our blood. Oxytocin promotes “pro-social” behaviors such as relaxation, trust, improved psychological stability, and altruism in humans.
It is thought that oxytocin in both mother an infant is increased when a mother gazes into her baby’s eyes, and when the baby gazes back. For these reasons, oxytocin is also sometimes called the “love hormone”.
In owners and dogs, oxytocin levels rose by up to 300% when they gazed at each other, supporting the existence of a self-perpetuating oxytocin-mediated positive feedback loop in human-dog relationships that is similar to that of human mother-infant relations.
In other words – our love grows with our canine companions, the longer we spend with them (and watch them beg for food).
6) You Learned Unconditional Love Through Your Dog
Nugget was not a perfect dog. He has food aggression, and snaps when he is unhappy. He has bitten me, my friends, helper and parents. He barks loudly at strangers, vacuum cleaners, and anything else. He LOVEed eating plants and has massacred my greens like a tornado leaving a trail of destruction.
Yet, despite all that, I loved him. Very much. It did not matter that he was cock-eyed, with glaring character flaws. My love for him was unconditional, and I knew that his love for me was too, as well. It is often very difficult to replicate this with another human being – because we bring with us many expectations when we deal with people. With dogs, the bond is special, and very different. We can be ourselves, with no fear of being judged. We can love without restrain or abandon – and that is what we do with our canine friends. This intense love is precisely the reason our dog’s death is so difficult to come to terms with.
Though our dogs, we learn to love, unconditionally.
7) We Are Their World
We have our work, friends, family. But our dogs only have us. We are cognisant of this at the back of our minds, and hence, we take extra care to make sure that their needs are met. We feel guilty when we go on holidays, or when we spend too much time away from home. We are their world, and in the process, they become a very large part of ours. Following our dog’s death, a part of us dies as well.
8) Dogs Express Themselves, And Taught You How To as Well
Dogs are not like humans. They show it when they are happy. They jump in joy when you are home, sulk when you leave the house. They growl when another dog is trying to snatch their bone. They express their emotions with wild abandon. It rubs off us- their owners as well. That is why, the grief is so raw and real, when they leave us. They never held back when they were alive – and when they are gone, our grief is just as powerful.
9) Dogs are Full of Personality
No 2 dogs are alike. Even if they look the same, they would have different personalities, quirks, and things which define them. Indeed, Nugget was one of a kind. From his squint, to different coloured eyes, to his love for vegetables and liberal chomping, Nugget was absolutely unique. Every dog is irreplaceable. After our dog’s death, we will never be able to find another dog who is exactly the same again. This makes us miss them even more after they are gone.
10) They Were Always There When You Needed Someone
Dogs are nature’s most wonderful healers. That is why, after a long day, all we want to do is go home to see our dogs. When we are feeling low, we may not want to meet other people, yet, our dogs will make us feel better.
For me, I often lie sleepless at night, stressing over work and SOSD. Through those nights, Nugget would be with me, listening to me play the guitar, or just being comfortable in my arms.When we need company, our canine friends always give their all for us, rain or shine, day or night.
We give our dogs food, water and shelter. But what they give us back in return, are experiences and lessons in life which no amount of money can buy. And when they finally leave us, it is as if this spring of limitless positivity has finally dried up. That is why it so difficult, to grapple with our dog’s death. They are not just a dog. They are our best friends, our children, our family. And even if you have many dogs, like I do, losing any one of them, is just as painful.
Dearly Missed, Now and Forever