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Pet loss: How to handle the loss of large breed dogs

This is Shamontiel's German Shepherd who lived from Oct. 8, 2004 to Jan. 31, 2004.
(Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

German Shepherds are one of the most popular dogs that both police and the everyday home owner chooses as a pet or guard dog. But with the popularity of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in large dogs, such as German Shepherds, some may wonder, "Why not choose a smaller dog?" Or, "Why choose a dog that's likely to develop cancer?" According to "German Shepherds for Dummies," no screening tests are available for hemangiosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the circulatory system, which is seen more often in German Shepherds than in any other breed. The only signs that'll trigger a dog owner's attention are white gums, disorientation, collapsing and limping. Even if the dog has a leg amputated to get rid of the cancer, the dog's lifespan is usually only a few months.

Tough decision: Chemotherapy, amputation or put to sleep?

Dog owners understand where other dog owners are coming from. They know what a difficult decision it is to decide whether to put a dog to sleep. People who don't care for dogs or have never owned a dog may not understand that this decision may be as difficult as making the call on whether to take a human being off of life support. On four legs or two legs, any living being that someone has grown accustomed to being around is going to leave an impact. A dog owner has paid for grooming, food, veterinary visits, toys and sometimes even ridiculous dog clothing. This breathing being is a family member to a dog owner's household. To make the final call on whether a dog owner wants to have a dog put to sleep or see if (s)he can survive on three limbs or after chemotherapy is a huge decision. It's up to the dog owner and the veterinarian to discuss and make the final call.

Lifespan of a dog

One year of human life is seven years for a dog. According to Web MD, only 13 percent of giant breed dogs live over 10 years, and a 50-plus pound dog may live 10 to 12 years. DogBreedInfo estimates a German Shepherd's weight at 77 to 85 pounds. Approximately 40 percent of smaller breed dogs may live for over 10 years.

Purebred dogs are also more likely to have health issues than mutts. As with German Shepherds, Web MD concludes that Boxers, Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers also have unusually high rates of cancer.

Mourning the loss of a dog

A dog is seen every single day in a responsible dog owner's life. It may take some time to get over the idea of waking up early in the morning to let the dog outside to relieve itself, feed him or her a daily meal or go out for a walk. Pet owners make their animals a priority in similar ways to a child. This is why when dog owners go on vacation, they either have to find other family members and friends that the pet is familiar with to feed, walk and watch it or temporarily put the dog in a kennel until the owner comes back. Dogs already give dog owners major gratitude while seeing them daily so the reaction both dog owners and dogs give each other when separated for a few days could make observers think they haven't seen each other in years. Now imagine how a dog reacts after not seeing its owner all day. Then consider what the reaction is for that owner to not receive that same amount of unconditional love forever.

The dreadful response a dog owner has looking at an empty doghouse, basement or back porch is more often than not heart-breaking. Expect some tears to be shed. Expect there to be a few days, months or maybe even years of grief. Dog owners don't "get over" a dog loss. They usually just deal with it and understand that dogs were never meant to live forever.

What to do after dog dies

Photos are enlarged. Keychains are made. Dog funerals are arranged. Dog owners may be so wrapped up in dealing with their own dog's death that they don't pay attention to how important it is for other dogs to survive. While it makes sense to want to keep some items that the dog used to play with or enjoyed, there are many items that may be of use to other dogs. For families who are having financial struggles, feeding the pet can be the lowest priority. This is why companies, such as PetCo, created Food Bank programs where people can donate their pet food. According to their site, the Food Bank Program has collected over 2.9 million pounds of food and litter to help needy families since its inception in 2010. For dog owners who have lost an animal, it is incredibly important to not let that food go bad. It's already paid for. May as well put it to use instead of keeping it there in memory of the dog or letting it hang around because the owner may get a dog someday. While "someday" may come, there are dogs who need food right at this very moment.

Getting another dog

There is no right or wrong answer as far as how short or long a dog owner should wait before getting another dog. The bigger issue is whether the dog owner is emotionally ready to take care of another animal. If the owner is still mourning the loss of a previous dog or is constantly comparing the last dog to the new dog in hopes of them being alike, wait awhile. The new dog has his or her own personality and will never look or act exactly like the last animal, even if the dog owner chooses to get a dog of the same breed.

Also, dog owners should financially be prepared to take care of another animal. The previous dog may have gotten all of its current shots, been trained and groomed. As with a new dog, this process must start all over again. Euthanasia isn't cheap either. The prices may vary. PetMD shows significantly lower rates ($25) from other companies with prices that charge as high as $645. A dog owner should pay off that debt first before investing in another animal.

What's next?

Dog owners should avoid becoming overly paranoid about the next dog. Should a dog owner choose a smaller dog in hopes of it living longer, there is the possibility that that dog may pass away, too. Never purchase or accept a dog thinking its life is equal to a contract. Just as human beings don't have a promised lifespan neither does a dog. However, that doesn't stop human beings from meeting new friends, dating new people, remarrying, etc. Keep that same state of mind when investing time, love and money into a new dog. Enjoy the new relationship. Remember how much fun it was to own the previous dog. Get to know the personality of the new dog.

The red-eye option on cameras are especially helpful when taking photographs of dogs. Snap away. Don't forget the memories of the previous dog but make every attempt to create lasting memories with the new barker in town.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all her latest Chicago dating, sex, marriage and work relationship entries, or subscribe to her Chicago Relationships channel at the top of this page. Also, follow her "Let's Talk About Sex...Health" Pinterest board.

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