5 Ways Adopting A Dog Helped Me Heal During My Grieving Process


Just after Christmas, on December 27, 2014, Spanky, a dachshund and corgi mix, was humanely put down because of bloat.

The second most common killer of dogs (aside from cancer), bloat is a common term used to describe the twisting of the stomach. It traps food, water and air so there is no way out.

Like a sneaky fox, the condition can claim a dog's life without warning. It was 10 pm when I first noticed something was wrong. She was standing stoically outside with a full moon overhead, gagging like she was trying to force something out.

I went upstairs and told my mother that "something was wrong with Spanky."

In response, my mother replied, "I know, she has been acting funny all night. She keeps wanting to go out and can't lie down."

As the minutes ticked on, Spanky started to display more signs of distress. The gagging became more frequent and was accompanied by distressing moans. 

By midnight, we were at the vet, where we were told news that no owner wants to hear.

"Spanky's stomach has twisted, trapping food contents inside. The only way to fix this condition is through surgery, and given her age, she probably won't survive. We will keep her comfortable."

A very sad night for all, Spanky was heavily medicated as we said goodbye to a sweet, yet sassy dog that had been apart of our lives for over 15 years.

The weeks following were filled with tears, anger, sadness and just about every upsetting emotion you can think of.

We didn't exactly plan this, but a month later, we found ourselves adopting Lucy, a Labrador retriever mix, from Forever Home Rescue New England.

Ironically, by opening our hearts to another dog, we slowly started to heal from the tragedy and accept the reality of life and death.

Here are five ways adopting a dog helped me while I was grieving the loss of another:

1. Chasing The Sun

From the moment Lucy came into our lives, she's enjoyed spending time outdoors, whether it be running around with her four-legged pals at the dog park or taking pleasure in a relaxing car ride. Both of these activities got the family out of the house and into the sun.

No coincidence, getting up and getting out has helped shake some of our sadness.

Sunlight cues special areas in the eye to trigger the release of serotonin, a chemical produced by the brain that boosts mood and helps you feel calm and content. If you have a deficiency, you're at a greater risk for developing depression.

My very first walk with Lucy was on a chilly winter weekend. It was cold and icy, but the sun was shining overhead.

For those 20 minutes, I was living in the moment and enjoying the little things we take for granted.

2. Therapy

I'm not ashamed to admit I have a therapist.

Life can be compared to an imperfect, winding road that has no end. You have tremendous lows, tremendous highs and everything in between.

Having Lucy alongside me during my therapy sessions was very healing. She provided comfort, and every so often, I would hold her in my arms and give her a kiss on her muzzle.

These are things that I was never able to do with Spanky. Spanky was as cute as could be, but she had a mean streak that unfortunately made her undesirable to most prospective pet owners.  A very special family was needed to love her as she was, and we were that family.

I'm proud about that. We signed up for the long haul with Spanky, and while most would have brought her back to the shelter, we stood by her year after year through all her shenanigans.

But at the same time, enjoying new experiences with Lucy, even the ones we commonly take for granted, brought me happiness and peace.

3. Tummy Rubs

All three dogs that have been a part of my life — Spanky, Graham and Lucy — loved tummy rubs.

Lucy and Spanky mirror each other by lying straight on their backs, hind legs in the air. Graham enjoyed tummy rubs too, but he would always lie on his side.

Back when Spanky was younger, she would lie on her back, and you could softly rub her tummy as she slept. She abandoned this position as she grew older because it was uncomfortable. Lucy helps to bring back the little things we used to enjoy.

4. No Fetch For Lucy

At the same time, you don't want your newly adopted dog to be exactly like the one that passed. You'll start comparing in an attempt to recreate your pet that passed way, which can lead to unhappiness when you realize that no two dogs will be exactly alike.

Back when Spanky was in her prime, she was the dog that could fetch a ball over 50 times before tiring out. I tried fetch with Lucy one time, but it didn't work out.

She can run after a ball, but she doesn't understand that you have to bring it back in order for things to work.

That's OK, though. Some things should be left for the mind to reminisce.

5. Reality Of Life And Death

At this point, I've processed through the grief of losing two dogs, one from cancer and another from bloat.

Seeing Lucy full of life and in her prime has served as a reminder that all creatures, whether two-legged or four, start out young, but will eventually grow old and pass on.

While a somber reminder for some, I choose to take a different path by acknowledging this truth and enjoying the time we have together.

Contrary to belief, adopting a new pet is not a means of replacing the one you lost.

It's simply moving forward by starting a new chapter, while still holding on to the precious memories unique to the one that has passed. I'm confident Spanky wouldn't have wanted things to turn out any other way.