Losing a beloved pet is never an easy thing. While most of us know it’s ultimately inevitable (no one lives forever after all), it doesn’t make it any less painful when the time comes.
The pain of losing a loved one can feel like too much to bear at times, and grief can seem like an all-encompassing force that will eventually consume you. Though it gets a little easier with each passing day, you never forget how much it hurt to lose your beloved four-legged family member.
As pets age, they often become ill or find it more difficult to move around than they once did. This, in a way, gives us a little time to prepare for what’s coming — we know it’s almost the end and can sometimes find a way to cope with our grief before our pet actually leaves us.
But what about sudden, traumatic deaths that occur out of the blue with no warning? These can happen sometimes, too, and they can feel even more painful than when our pets die of old age, adding shock and disbelief to the grief we’re already feeling.
One very traumatic way our dogs sometimes leave us is due to drowning. While most dogs are naturally great swimmers, unfortunately there are times when they don’t make it out of the water. This leaves us wondering what happened and why, often unable to process the traumatic event.
Our mind goes into a kind of tailspin, with thoughts and questions about what happened cycling through at a mile a minute. We can’t believe this has happened, and our brain’s natural response is to try and make sense of it. Then there’s the question of whether your dog suffered when she drowned. But how can we possibly know?
As loving dog owners, we never want to hear that our beloved pet suffered in any way; it makes us feel even more guilty and only adds to the weight of our grief. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know the answer to the question, even if the outcome will hurt us more than we already are.
In this post, I’ll attempt to help you sort through your suffering, even though right now it might seem like you’ll be lost in it forever. As a pet owner who has lost beloved animals on more than one occasion, I understand how you might be feeling and will do my best to help you get through this.
My Dog Drowned — Did She Suffer?
The answer to this question is not an easy one to come by. It all depends on the unique circumstances of your situation, and ultimately no one really knows whether your dog suffered but her. While it’s heart breaking to think of her suffering, the important thing to remember is that if she did suffer it was only temporary, and that she is at peace now.
There will be no more suffering for her ever again, which you might take a little comfort in knowing eventually. What I can provide for you is a few suggestions on how you might begin to cope with your loss, and while I would never suggest that you “get over it,” I’ll try to help you move on as best I can.
If your dog has drowned, firstly please let me say that I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing someone this way can be shocking, traumatic, and leave your head spinning. My first suggestion is that you try to remember the good times you had with your pup, and that you did a great thing by giving her a home and a family to call her own.
Remember that she loved you unconditionally, just as much as you loved her. And please, please don’t blame yourself. Here are a few more suggestions that might help you cope with your loss, which I hope will allow your heart to heal over time:
Honor Her Memory
While it certainly won’t bring her back, stop you from missing her, or make the pain go away, honoring your dog might help you to find a little comfort within your grief. Putting up a picture of her where you’ll see it every day, writing down memories that you have of her in a special journal, or talking about silly things she did that made you laugh will all bring a smile to your face — even if only temporarily.
Some people even get their pet’s name or portrait as a tattoo, which is a beautiful way to preserve their memory as well as a way to keep them with you wherever you go.
When we lose our pets suddenly it feels as if they were taken from us too soon, and rightly so. However, honoring the time you spent together and how much she meant to you might help the hurt lessen over time.
Also, depending on your personal beliefs, trying to remember that she’ll always be with you in some way — perhaps as a guardian watching out for you — can be another way to honor her memory that will help you to find a little comfort.
Remember Her Life
Abraham Lincoln said, “It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Even though your pup was taken from you far too soon, I’m willing to bet that her life with you was full of love, happiness, and plenty of good times.
You fed her and walked her every day, took care of her needs, brought her into your home and made her a part of your family, which meant the world to her, whether you know it or not. The simple fact that you were there for her was enough to make her feel loved, appreciated, and important — and you did all of that for her.
Though it doesn’t make it any easier or make you miss her any less, reminding yourself that she had a great life with you will hopefully help you to find some solace in your sadness.
The fact that the two of you spent quality time together while she was here will allow you to cherish your memories of her, even though it might make you sad to think about her (especially at first). Sometimes the quality of a life is the most important thing, and you gave her the best life that you could, which is a beautiful thing to do for someone.
Stop Blaming Yourself
It’s human nature for us to blame ourselves when someone we love passes on; we can’t help but wonder what we might have done differently if given the chance. While you won’t be able to turn this trait off as easily as you might like, there are ways to remind yourself that your dog’s drowning wasn’t your fault that might help to ease your guilt.
There is no one to blame, it just happened. As traumatic as this was for you, it’s doubtful that you could have prevented it.
Even if you’re asking yourself questions like “what if I didn’t take her to the beach that day?” or “why did I let her swim out so far?” you’re still not to blame. Things happen that are beyond our control, and sadly, this was one of them. Pets don’t think the way we do, they live in the moment.
Even though it was her last day alive, she died doing something she loved, and she would never blame you for what happened to her. Follow her lead and allow yourself to let go of some of the guilt, even if it’s just a little for now. Over time the heaviness you’re feeling will get a little lighter, even if it never goes away completely.
Seek Out Help
If all of the above suggestions are falling flat for you, or if they’re helping a little but you’re still feeling terrible, please try to seek out some help for yourself. As dog owners, losing our beloved pet can feel like we’ve lost a child or other family member; our dogs mean that much to us.
Some people believe that it should be easy to “get over” losing a dog, but we know that’s not the case. Especially in the event of a sudden or traumatic death like a drowning, the grief can be harder to bear than we feel like we have the strength to cope with. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with admitting this to ourselves — we’re only human.
Thankfully, there are people who understand that pet grief is real and who have created bereavement services for dog owners who are having a hard time coping with the loss of their loved one. Finding help through like-minded people who are also animal lovers can be a great way to gain some perspective, vent your feelings and possibly even find some closure for yourself.
While nothing will ever make this pain completely disappear, this is one way to lighten your grief load (even if just a little) and help you cope with the traumatic experience you’ve had.
Make Time for Self-Care
After we’ve lost someone that we love, it’s very common to forget about ourselves. However, these are the times when caring for our own needs are the most important, even if they seem insignificant right now. Taking the time to be gentle with yourself, allowing yourself to grieve, and not expecting too much from yourself are all super important after you experience a loss — especially one that involves the traumatic death of a loved one.
It’s super common to focus all your energy on the loss itself and lose sight of your own needs, so don’t feel bad if you’ve been neglecting yourself — just try to do a little better each day.
Making sure you get enough sleep, eating regularly, getting regular exercise, and perhaps a meditation or prayer practice (depending on what you’re into) sound like simple enough things, but they all feel so much more difficult when we’re grieving. Having people around to encourage you, setting reminders for yourself, or writing important self-care activities down where you’ll see them easily can all be helpful ways to make sure you’re taking care of yourself during this difficult time.
Also, remember that your dog wouldn’t want you to suffer more than you already are. While you can’t simply stop missing her or grieving her loss, you can make sure you take care of yourself so that you can still function (even if it’s at a lesser level than normal for a while).
Open Your Heart Again (In Time)
While I’d never suggest running out and getting another dog right away after a loss like this or getting a “replacement” for your dog, maybe in time you could open your heart again and bring a new family member into your home. It might feel like you’ll never want another dog right now, and that’s totally normal.
You’d feel like you were replacing her, forgetting her, or dishonoring her memory in some way, which I completely understand. But once you realize that she can never be replaced and that her memory will live on in you forever, allowing another dog to share your heart and home might start to feel like a better idea.
There are millions of dogs that need homes all over the world. While you’ll never be able to replicate the bond you shared with your dearly departed, another dog out there is waiting to love you unconditionally, too. You’d be doing another amazing thing by giving one of them a home, and you’d create new memories without sacrificing the old ones you shared with your dog that passed on.
Some people never get another dog after losing one they were super attached to, and that’s ok, too. Especially since you’ve experienced something this traumatic, it would be totally understandable to not want to experience that again. But chances are you might change your mind one day, and though I didn’t know your dog, I’m sure that she would give her blessing.