5 min read

Losing a dog and how to cope

Losing a dog is one of the most challenging experiences of your life - somehow totally surprising and utterly consuming. Here's my story and how I'm getting through it
Losing a dog and how to cope

I lost my dog Bruce a few weeks ago. It’s been one of the most challenging stretches of my life since then - somehow totally surprising and utterly consuming.

I’m Sierra and my dog’s name was Bruce. I’ve been on the team here at Maev for almost a year, running our dog-loving laden Instagram of which I’d take any opportunity to post a picture of my favorite guy (Evidence: here, here & here.) Bruce was all mine. He was the first dog I adopted right after I moved into the home that was all mine. He was my roommate, adventure pal, protector, confidante, workout partner, wingman, shadow, sous chef, baby squish, happiest hello and hardest goodbye.

We genuinely had an awesome life, but in February, Bruce suddenly developed a seizure disorder and had upwards of 20 episodes in my arms after that point. We fought like crazy to find a way to fix him. We tried prescriptions, neurologist appointments, altered sleep schedules, holistic remedies...the whole thing. In the end, we suspect the seizures were a side effect of a sudden onset brain tumor. No amount of love or medicine could have saved him and that’s something I have to accept.

On what I knew was going to be his last day, we caught one more sunrise. He ate his favorite meal and fell asleep in my arms one last time.⁠ His vet who was there to assist in the process shed tears for both of us and assured me that I advocated for him like a titan. He has “the best mom and was clearly so very loved” - words I’ve held onto because although she sees a lot of animals come and go, this felt like a blow to her as well. I left the vet’s office that day empty handed and in the deepest, darkest rock bottom, wondering how it gets better and what the hell I do now.

A few days of tears and informing my closest people, I shared the news via Instagram to the rest of my network. Part of this felt superficial. Why would I be looking for likes on something that crushed my soul? But a bigger part of me knew how many people truly loved his spirit because to know Bruce was to love him and to know me was to know Bruce. I wrote a loving tribute - perhaps the most vulnerable I’ve ever been in public - and shared a perfectly curated collection of photos to sum up our life together. In response, I’ve never received so much support for anything in my life. Every single person could recall a memory of him or was able to identify how happy he made me and vice versa. Partners in crime, thick as thieves. Bruce was my best friend.

In the weeks since, there have been a few resources that really stood out to me that I wanted to share here, so that if you’re going through this absolutely horrible experience, you can know you’re not alone and that there’s infinite support out there for you too.

I found a Facebook group for pet loss where people share memories of their departed pals. There are many mentions of “someday at the rainbow bridge” and so much support when someone posts about a hard day or an anniversary. Like all Facebook groups, the point is that you all are there because you’ve chosen to be there. You’ve all been there and you all have an unspoken understanding. I often find myself even bleary-eyed, first thing in the morning, reading stories or replying in depth to console a stranger. I found that grief feels immediate and enveloping, and that sometimes you find your healing in helping others understand theirs. I wouldn’t underestimate what some of these online communities can do to help the grieving process.

I also ordered a book to help with the understanding of afterlife for pets. I became obsessed with what dog heaven might be like. I wondered if Bruce would be waiting there and sprint towards me like he would when I’d pick him up from the dog sitter. I bought a book called Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates as it came highly recommended by someone in the Facebook group and it has helped bring assurance through spirituality. The author, Gary Kurz, went on a full blown mission to prove that animals are indeed in heaven after he lost his own. With multiple stories, tips on how to notice your angels connecting with you and a 30-day devotional, it at least helps bring some structure to grieving, which is something I thrive on.

I’m still an active member of that Facebook group and perhaps the biggest question I see posed in the Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook is whether or not to get another dog. There are generally two camps at this question - those who say “yes, save another life” and those who say “no, it’s much too soon.” I was asking myself this same question, looking for a path forward, wondering how it gets better and what I can do now to keep moving?

I adopted my dog Bruce from the Arizona Humane Society at 5 years old. He was abandoned by his previous family and when I saw him online, I thought about him for two weeks before I finally pulled the trigger and took him home. He was quite the project and had a lot of quirks, but his heart was made of gold and he was all mine. I found so much gratification in finding a diamond in the rough or an angel among ashes. I learned that’s the way for me - I am a rescue dog mom. I knew I needed another dog.

After a few missed opportunities and a last minute Google search, I stumbled across a blurry picture of just the dog I was looking for - shepherd mix, 5 years old, well behaved and saved from euthanasia on July 2nd, one week after my boy went to heaven. His name is Sarge.

Bruce was sick and it was Bruce’s time, but there are a lot of dogs out there who aren’t at their time, but are forced in shelters or are strays and are coming up against the clock. I knew that I had room in my heart for another dog to come into my home and sit with me in my grief and provide that shoulder to cry on. I was ‘Team it’s-too-soon’ for so many reasons, but all it took was Sarge to understand what it’s all about when it comes to dogs...paying it forward.

Sarge will never fill the hole Bruce left in my heart. Instead he will expand it. There’s room for him and many more down the line because the unfortunate truth is dogs will enter your life for a season and a reason, but they won’t last a lifetime. So love them with all of your heart, give them the best home you can, and know that you’ll see them in heaven if you don’t already see them looking out for you from above. My perfect Bruce sent me Sarge - I just know it.