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CANINE CONNECTION: Coping with grief after the loss of a beloved pet

Today was a big day for me. I ventured into the trails that I had formerly walked for years with my three dogs, but today it was with just two. I’m not going to lie … it was painful.
joan klucha

Today was a big day for me. I ventured into the trails that I had formerly walked for years with my three dogs, but today it was with just two.

I’m not going to lie … it was painful. It was painful to remember Piper running through the trails, but it was harder to think how he might be missing the joy he felt while on these trails. But as easy as it is to let the sorrow for what was, and for what has been lost, take over, I couldn’t let my mind go there. So today was the first day of letting go of Piper.

Grieving the loss of a beloved pet is an extremely personal affair as everyone deals with it differently. I am grateful for being able to express myself within this column. As I type this, I am finding comfort in sharing my experience. Instead of internalizing it and pretending it never happened, I am able to face the fact that it really happened. My La-lee (my nickname for him) has travelled over rainbow bridge.

I am also grateful to be surrounded with very supportive people who are not only animal lovers, but have also lost a pet and understand the deep emotional pain. And the pain is real. Do not let anyone attempt to trivialize it with well-intentioned but unsympathetic comments. Take my advice and just walk away from them. Having a strong support network is very important in the grieving process. Thank you Maureen!

As you go about your day, it is easy to shut out the world around you, but if you have other pets in your home, don’t forget about them as they are grieving too – I guarantee it. Along our walks, Raider looks for his mischief buddy and Zumi, who has been with Piper since the day he came home, is morose. Cuddle with them, lay with them, cry with them. As my good friend Michael – whose border collie passed two weeks ago – said, “Cry Joan, cry as much as you want as it is the only thing that makes sense when you lose such a perfect love.” Michael is cool, one of the coolest friends I have.

Fresh air is good, away from the invasive noise of people. Allow the pure music of nature to fill your ears and it will fill your heart too. It will do you good. My hike today took me to the edge of the Fraser River. The tide was out, exposing the sandy bottom. I found a stick and carved a heart with Piper’s name in the sand, then left, knowing that the tide would come in and carry my memorial away. It was cathartic. It lightened my heart and my mood shifted a little bit away from sadness.

The monkey in our minds can be an evil thing during grief, conjuring up horrible images. Don’t dwell on the moments, hours or days before your pet’s death. Don’t let your monkey mind take your heart there. You will be forever climbing out of a quagmire of regret if you do. Instead, make an effort to think of joyful past memories. To help myself with this, I’ve changed the screen savers on my computer and phone to the healthiest images of Piper I could find. At first I looked at them with a touch of sadness because he is gone, but soon I could see beyond what I lost and was reminded of the special moments we shared when I captured those images. Now I smile.

Keep busy. This doesn’t mean become a workaholic, but find things to do that soothe the soul, comfort the heart and distract the mind. This could be gardening, finishing a project, or curling up with a really great book.

Don’t go out looking for another dog right away. Your dog left a void in your heart when it passed, but that void needs to be filled by you now. When it is healed, your next dog will find you and capture a different place in your heart.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at