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by Jillian LaCross |

When a dog enters your life, he or she shares your life. It doesn’t matter if you got your dog as a puppy from a breeder or as an older dog from a rescue organization. The moment those four legs cross your threshold is the moment when life will never be the same – and you will share hundreds of thousands of moments together.

Until that fateful moment when your beloved friend is gone.

The sense of loss is palpable for many dog owners. The emotions felt toward the dog while he was alive – happiness, elation, peace, pride, and yes, even irritation – can be replaced by a myriad of unpleasant emotions that boil down to a single experience when he crosses the Rainbow Bridge: grief. Yes, most of us know what it’s like to grieve the loss of a dog, and if you’ve owned dogs for decades, you also know that the loss of some dogs, or one dog, is tougher to accept than others.

Why loss is difficult.

“I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘I don’t understand this,’” says Colleen Rolland, certified Pet Loss Grief Recovery Specialist and President of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, who resides in Ontario, Canada. “And they always say it in the same tone. It’s almost like they’re ashamed of it. They’re mystified as to why they are feeling such strong, tumultuous emotions.”

A sense of loss can be profound because of the deep bond a dog and a human being share. For Rolland, inviting a struggling individual into a state of context is a good starting point to begin understanding these emotions. “I usually start sessions by talking about the animal-human bond and why it is so strong, so they have some context within which to view their grief. I talk about the caretaking loop, which I think is especially important because normally a caretaking loop gets established very quickly. You look after all of the needs and wants of the dog – the social, the physical, the emotional, etc. In return, the dog looks after you by providing unconditional love. That bond only strengthens and grows over time.”

It also depends on the role that the animal has in a person’s life. What made that dog so special? Rolland explains the reasons vary widely. It’s a question that is unique to each grieving individual. “It could be that they are the animal companion of a young couple who don’t have children and which represents their surrogate child,” says Rolland. “Or, it could be a twelve-year-old only child who grew up with that animal and represents a surrogate brother or sister. With an elderly couple, it could be the last link to a spouse who has recently died. It could be a police officer whose working dog is shot in the line of duty.”

Each relationship is special in its own way, just as relationships with individual people are inherently unique. Loss is difficult because of the great love and the great bond that used to be experienced on a daily basis with the loving presence of a four-legged friend. With death, we not only lose a dog we love, we lose our rhythm and sense of peace. We will never be the same.

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