What to do when dog dies? I thought I had already been doing it the first few days after Clementine was put to sleep...I grieved, cried and let it out. But something was holding me back and setting me back further. I was reading my words in my forum posts and I finally figured it out: GUILT.
Once I defined it, I began exploring and learning about this unexpected feeling after my dog died...and that is when healing truly began.
For me, even though my caring vet agreed it was "time" as Clementine's body was failing (I made the decision but the veterinarian completely agreed) and her quality of life was basically lying in darkness (she was blind) and barely moving around...who the heck was I to make that call? One image that horrified me was when we got to the vet's office, Clementine acted a bit more animated than usual out in the sun, on the grass. So in my mind, I "killed" my dog. Now of course, this wasn't the case - but that is how it felt to me...I messed up making the call to euthanize.
But then I learned that EVERYONE, no matter how their dog passes away, feels this guilt. It is a natural part of the grieving process. Here are some other loss of a dog examples to show you what I mean - these are TRUE STORIES my friends/family members or other stories I have experienced:
- Extreme guilt because waited to euthanize until dog couldn't get up on hind legs (suffered).
- Guilty feelings for not trying aggressive treatments like chemo instead of deciding to euthanize (hindsight/too late).
- Dog killed by mountain lion when out of sight for just a minute (should have protected her).
- Waited to euthanize so long that pain was unbearable and had to be put to sleep in car (suffered).
- Should have noticed symptoms - could have caught cancer sooner (blame self).
- Left sliding door open and dog ran out and was killed by a car (blame self).
These are just some examples but those who are feeling guilt over their pet's death need to recognize that feeling guilty is NORMAL. Waiting too long to put to sleep, feeling dog was put to sleep too soon (in my case), unable to protect dog from predator/accident, not trying aggressive treatments, not catching symptoms of terminal disease...every single pet owner in these stories was consumed by guilt.
So how do you get out of this unhealthy blaming of self? You repeat this over and over for as long as it takes (I made this up...you can put your own unique experiences in it):
I loved Clementine and she always felt my love
I have always done what I felt was best for her
Clementine left this world feeling loved and content
I would never make any decision to intentionally hurt Clementine - every decision was based on my love for her
Clementine had no quality of life anymore and any excitement I saw in her at the end was that she knew she would finally be free of sickness and pain and was anxious to roam free once more (my vet said this to me when I told her I felt guilty for euthanizing too soon - that she sensed her freedom was coming)