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How to handle the loss of a dog for owners, non-owners

For someone who isn't into animals, it's difficult to understand the mourning period for a dog owner. But for a dog owner, it's devastating to find out that their pets have died, especially if there was no forewarning.

Singer Mya holds her dog Journey at the North Shore Animal League America's 8th Annual Tour For Life press conference at the North Shore Animal League March 26, 2008 in Port Washington, New York.
(Steven Henry/Getty Images)
Chicago Relationships Examiner Shamontiel with her dog Faith (2004 to Jan. 31, 2014)
(Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

In the case of pets like German Shepherds, who are most likely to develop hemangiosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the circulatory system, one would wonder why go for a dog that has the odds against her. Asking that question is about like asking why buy a car if you know there's a possibility of a car accident. Not all dogs die of the sicknesses their breed is closely associated with. And there's no surefire prediction as to how a dog will die. But when it does die, the owner is hurt. And it helps to have supportive friends and family around during such a difficult time.

For a non-dog owner, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be willing to drive to the veterinarian's office so the dog owner can have her last moments with the dog.
  • Be sympathetic when talking to the dog owner about how she would like to proceed with the dog's illness. Some dog owners may want to put the dog out of any possible misery and have it put to sleep. Other dog owners may choose to see if the dog may live longer and choose amputation or chemotherapy. Try not to judge the dog owner's decision.
  • Whether the dog owner chooses to go into the surgical room or stay in the waiting room, be there for the dog owner through the process. It is very common for a dog owner to need companionship, especially after already losing a companion.
  • Do not talk about how long the dog has lived as though this is a sufficient time. The dog owner is well aware that dogs age in seven-year human increments. No matter how many years have gone by, to a dog owner, chances are very high that that owner will feel like the dog died too soon.
  • Do not show photos of other dogs to the dog owner. As much as a dog owner loves dogs, showing off photos of other dogs or trying to bond by talking about your own dog is about like showing someone who has had a miscarriage other people's baby photos. Right now the only dog that is on this owner's mind is her own dog. At least wait for her to ask about your dog(s) before turning the conversation around.
  • Be careful about bringing up the idea of getting another dog. From a financial perspective, the dog owner has just paid for euthanasia, cremation and other medical care needs for her dog. Immediately investing more money in another dog to fill a void can become a financial burden. If the dog owner really wants another dog, be supportive but don't be the initiator. As with any other type of relationship, if the owner does not have proper time to deal with the previous dog's loss she may spend too much time comparing the two dogs and end up not wanting the second dog. And no dog should have to go through the emotional roller coaster of a distant owner.

More information:

Pet cemetery, cremation or backyard burial

There are pet cemeteries in Illinois, such as Hinsdale Animal Cemetery. Dog owners have the opportunity to have the dog cremated (privately or in a memorial), purchase a private burial plot, or purchase cremation jewelry and garden memorials for the home.

Should an owner choose the euthanasia option,* T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM gives detailed instructions in a Pet MD article about what will happen in the surgery room. Should the dog owner stay in the waiting room? Should the dog owner hold the pet while it's euthanized? Why is the dog given the shot through a vein? Why is the dog breathing after (s)he has been given the shot? Is it okay to ask the veterinarian to make sure the dog's eyelids are closed?

311 emergency confirms that in the Chicago, it is legal to bury a dog in the backyard as long as it is at least three feet deep. The full municipal code states:

7-12-330 Burial of dead animals.

No person shall leave in or throw into any public way, public place or public theater, or offensively expose or bury within the city, the body or any part thereof of any dead or fatally sick or injured animal; nor shall any person keep any dead animal in a place where it may be dangerous to the life or detrimental to the health of any other animal or person; provided, however, that the owner of any dead pet weighing not more than 150 pounds may bury such animal on his premises; provided, further, that not more than one such animal shall be buried upon any half acre ground within two years, and such animal shall be placed at least three feet below the surface of the soil surrounding and adjacent to the grave.

* The rate of euthanasia has decreased in Chicago from approximately 17,215 in 2006 to 8,149 in 2012.

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