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Taking Time to Paws and Reflect

Lamenting the death of a pet

By Amy Austin Psy.D., LMFT
Dr. Amy’s fur baby Havi
Dr. Amy’s fur baby Havi

I was all set to theme this article, “Is there light in the darkness?” when my beloved dog, Havi, passed away on June 8. He had been coughing and had a heart murmur for years, but after X-rays, it was deemed he had multiple issues. I just didn’t expect he would wake up and stumble to crawl next to me, clearly compromised. The next few hours remain a blur. 

I keep asking myself, why didn’t I kiss him before he passed? Did I love him enough, did I do enough? Of course, when I intellectualize, I fully know the answers to these questions. It’s just that my emotional self hasn’t caught up yet. I still have this deep ache that refuses to subside. 

I’ve grieved the loss of pets before, but this time it feels so different. Perhaps when the others passed, I was younger, more resilient, not in the middle of an isolating pandemic, and had kids and/or other pets on which to focus. Havi was my closest friend. He read me like no other, as I did him. Who else would be able to interpret a tiny whimper, a certain pant, that certain look that said, ‘it’s time for dinner and I don’t mean after your TV show’? And, it was evident he took great pride in being so accommodating with my daily routine. I even taught Havi how to ring a bell to go outside in case I was somewhere else in the house. He would gently nudge it which made me smile every time. 

Some downplay the loss of a pet. Maybe they are those who never had one. I am sharing my story not to just personalize, but to clinically validate that our pets can be viewed as family members and their loss can create a huge, cavernous hole which may take some intentional time and attention to process as you move on without their daily presents (pun intended). So, here are a few tips for dealing with the loss of a furry love. I’ll also quietly and gently listen to my own advice.  

  • Losing a pet can feel traumatizing. Give yourself a permission slip to take the time you need to “paws and reflect” to feel and express your emotions.
  • Its okay to talk about your pet, what their life meant, as well as their absence. Many people can empathize having experienced their own pain with pet loss.
  • In time, you may decide you want to open your heart and home to another pet.  As the saying goes, “Who needs a shrink when a dog is licking your face?” Honor that time frame, but give yourself enough time to grieve. Just remember, a new pet is not a replacement for the pet you lost. Each pet is a new and wonderfully unique being with a whole new set of adorable antics and endless amounts of love to give.

Is there light in the darkness? Yes, even though there are times we can’t see it. In time, Havi’s light will shine bright as will the many beautiful memories. In the meantime, I am in a state of transition, as he has made his.

Dr. Amy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. She can be reached at (760) 774.0047. 

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