Dogs have a special bond with humans that transcends the physical. Multifaceted, involving both the physical and spiritual, the bond between this small being and humans can best be described as supernatural. When a dog dies, that bond is broken––and like any other traumatic disruption, the break can be upsetting on a much deeper level than one would have anticipated. The loss involves shock, sadness, guilt, and a sense of profound loneliness. Guardians of the mind and heart, loyal companions, spirit-guides, healers, friends, protectors––dogs protect us so we protect them. When they’ve passed, we feel as if somehow we’ve let them down.
Search any online pet bereavement forum and you will see words such as “crushed,” “broken,” “devastated.” What might explain this? The closeness is unique. It involves a simple bond (between a person and their pet) and a complex one (between two interconnected souls, two living spirits). And that complexity reaches to a very deep place.
Dogs are with us, craving our attention, our touch, a proximity that reaches beyond the mere physical. Dogs can sense our moods, our well-being, can anticipate our reactions. Dogs can tell when we’re not feeling well. Waiting for us, guarding us, making sure we’re okay. And, of course, loyalty: dogs are the one animal we can always depend on.
It has been said that “dogs come into our lives for a purpose,” but we have to pause a moment to ask––for what purpose? To help others? To help ourselves? Dogs have a purpose––and their purpose is to show us the way. With dogs, we can think right, sense the right path. We must learn to follow the clues a dog provides. They have a better sense of smell, more advanced instincts. They touch our lives to make us better. We must learn to learn from them.
Sometimes one member of our family would be in one room and another family member in another. Our dog would invariably choose the right one to be near, sensing who at that particular moment needed the positive energy only she could provide. Think of the number of times a dog gives of himself or herself. A small animal providing comfort to a human. Think of how remarkable, how utterly beyond expectation, it is that a dog can have such a highly refined sense of when another is in need.
There is, of course, medical literature establishing the healing power of dogs. Caroline Kramer, Sadia Mehmood, Renee Suen, Dog Ownership and Survival: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (October 2019)(“A possible mechanism for the longer survival associated with dog ownership is through augmented physical activity provided by dog walking In [another] study, higher recreational and nonrecreational physical activity was associated with a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular events, suggesting that increasing physical activity is a simple, widely applicable, low-cost global strategy that could reduce deaths and cardiovascular events… In conclusion, our findings demonstrate that dog ownership is associated with reduced all-cause mortality possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality.”
“Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way.” ––Caroline Knapp
How does one recover from the loss of this our most essential companion? Somehow, someway, with whatever it takes, a space inside one’s mind has to be created that permits this loss to exist at the same time everything else is occurring. One simply designs and constructs that special area. And that protected space will be with you forever. Accessible at will, but closed off to others. That self-designed, self-created alteration of your mental architecture will change you––and for the better. For now you have learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. You finally realize what your dog has been trying to tell you all those times––that it’s okay: you can continue to live with both great joy and profound sadness simultaneously. And with that simple lesson, you can rise again.