A Dog-Shaped Hole in Your Heart?

God’s Healing for Hurting Hearts After the Loss of a Dog (or another pet)

By

Janet L. DeCaster

Isaiah 61:1 – “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because …
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted…

Let’s be honest, grief after the death of a dog (or another pet) is real, it’s hard and it hurts. Whether your pet was furry, finny, or feathery; losing them to death is just plain sad. In short, pet grief stinks! Particularly since the advent of the pandemic, when current events seem to keep going from weird to weirder. Our dogs (and other pets) have become even more important to us than usual. Their furry faces and wagging tails have become a little piece of happy in an otherwise wacky world. Losing them seems just a little bit harder these days. It can feel sort of like you have a dog-shaped hole in your heart and soul. 

As the author of “Dog Tales & Pup Parables: 31 Devotions for a Dog Lover’s Heart“* (© 2016, BroadStreet Publishing), I thought that addressing this issue may help someone out there in social-media-land have a little bit more healing in their hurting heart (or help them heal the heart of their child). Per usual, I write from a Christian perspective with the Bible as my guide. 

Stay tuned at the end of the post for practical tips on healing from this type of grief

Penny’s story:

This tiny, copper-colored, silky ball of six-pound love soon stole our hearts. Penny’s wobbly gait meant that she could only walk for short distances. Hence, I found a used dog stroller on-line and pushed her around the local park on daily walks with Sadie. She would bark with glee every time she heard the computer-generated voice on my smart-phone’s exercise App, knowing it meant a ride in her stroller to the park! What Penny lacked in mobility and stature, she made up for with a huge heart of love. 

Suddenly one day, Penny became totally unable to stand. After a thorough exam by her regular Vet and an Orthopedic Veterinary specialist, the doctors refused to do surgery, suspecting that she had a major neurological issue. I prayed for wisdom in her care. A further exam by a Veterinary Neurologist confirmed that Penny had a congenital spinal and skull malformation (probably due to inbreeding). She faced a life without mobility on painkillers and steroids. Finally, I made the excruciatingly difficult decision to have Penny euthanized by our Vet. 

After she died, I felt awful and like I had somehow let her down, even though she had put all her trust in me. Those first few days and week following her death were so very sad! I also felt terribly sorry for our other dog Sadie, because I couldn’t explain where Penny went. 

Penny’s Special Role:

I could regret having adopted Penny, due to the extra challenges her care posed or her short lifespan. Upon reflection, however, I realized that I fulfilled my goal of giving her the best life she could have had. I have also sensed the Holy Spirit’s special revelation about Penny’s unique role in my life, during a very challenging time. During her lifetime, I experienced two major losses of (human) loved ones. One of my older brothers died very unexpectedly in 2019. My mother then died in 2020. I still miss them both! After Penny died, I came across several photos with her, my brother, and my mother. They made me smile. We three had a mutual love of animals. I suddenly recognized that my tiny dog had brought happiness to both my brother and to my mother in their last months of life. My imperfect Penny was like a perfect, heaven-sent gift to me and my family at the right moment in time. That revelation brought me peace and closure.

John 14: 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid

Why grief after the death of a dog (or another pet) can be difficult:

  1. Rationalizing / Minimizing: We think we are being “foolish” to feel badly because it’s “only a pet” and compare it to the “really big” problems in the world. (or worse, we tell that to our child!) But the fact is, our pets ‘do life’ with us. When they are gone, we really miss their companionship! 
  2. They love us unconditionally: As I wrote on the back cover of my book, “Dogs demonstrate God’s unconditional love. No matter what kind of day you’ve had, your dog welcomes you with a wagging tail and happy eyes. These faithful pets remind us that we are loved.”
  3. Our dogs are totally dependent upon us: Our dogs are totally dependent upon us for food, shelter, and care. When they die, we wonder if we could have done something else to help them. This is particularly true if they died due to an accident, or we were faced with the painful decision to euthanize them. We can feel that we have let them down and can struggle with false guilt.  
  4. As we grieve our dogs, we are sometimes also grieving other losses in life:  The loss of a pet can trigger memories of other painful losses and it hurts. 

Tips to help heal your heart (or your child’s heart) after the loss of a pet:

  1. Avoid denial or self-medication: Denial, avoidance or self-medication never heals grief, it only prolongs and perpetuates it. Avoid self-medication or other emotion-numbing behaviors. Cry if you need to! (or give children safe, emotional space to do so). God made tears as a release of many stress-related chemicals, like cortisol. Tears heal and Jesus understands. Luke 1:37 says it best when Jesus faced the loss of his dear friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept!”
  2. Rituals: Participate in a ritual that helps you to remember your pet and find closure. Whether it’s a small service to bury your pet’s remains, or sharing a time of remembrance with family members, rituals help us to move through grief. ***
  3. Turn to the Bible and prayer: Begin or renew a daily quiet time of personal devotional Bible reading and prayer to seek the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word has supernatural power, and it heals us from the inside out. (Suggested verses below)
  4. Remember, write or ‘process the loss’ in another way: Print out a special photo of your pet to help you (or your child) to remember. Writing in a journal can be a helpful way for some to process loss. If you have young children, having them share what they miss about their pet and draw pictures of them may help them learn to share their feelings in healthy ways. 
  5. Talk: Talk to God and talk to each other. (or let your child talk — don’t change the subject!) If you feel a sudden pain of your loss, don’t bottle it up, let it out. It helps and it’s okay!

Isaiah 53:4(a)…He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows

God’s Word: 

God’s word contains healing balm for the human soul. The following passages contain wonderful promises from the Bible that you may find comforting for personal study. Isaiah 53: 1-5, Isaiah 61: 1-3, Luke 4: 17-21, John 14: 25-27, Psalm 23, Psalm 147:3, Psalm 30:2

God Knows, He Cares & He’s Listening: 

God is not too busy to care about the smallest things that concern us, including the death of our dog (or another pet). His Word says in Matthew 10: 29, “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” God knows and cares when our pets die, and he loves us. It was the Holy Spirit who brought me peace after Penny died. He is also willing to heal your hurting heart from what feels like that dog-shaped hole left in your heart and soul after your dog dies. If you ask him, he will be happy to begin or deepen that process of “inner healing” in your life in that mysterious way that only he can do. Why don’t you start or renew a conversation with God today? That’s what prayer is: a simple conversation with your heavenly father. He is listening, he cares, and he is sure to answer.

Psalm 30:5(b)…weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning

Please share this with others who may need comfort after the loss of a furry friend. Thanks!

______________________________________________________________________________________________

*I’ve recently learned that the hard-copy book is out of print, but e-copies and used copies are still available on-line https://amazon.com/author/janetdecaster  I am prayerfully seeking the Lord’s wisdom on republication soon and in the publication of other animal-themed devotional manuscripts that I have written.

** At the time of Joy’s loss, I wrote on the topic of whether pets go to heaven. It is a Bible-based study that may also be a helpful resource.  You can find the link here: https://janetdecaster.com/do-pets-go-to-heaven/  

*** I cried and held a pet funeral as an adult for our family goldfish when my daughters were young. Now you know why God picked me to write the animal-themed devotional books, right? I’m a SOFTY who loves all animals!! And there are more devotional books in the works.

Janet DeCaster
Janet DeCaster
Christian Author & Speaker, Janet DeCaster, holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a J.D. from Emory University School of Law, and a Certificate of Biblical Studies from ACTS International Bible College. She has served as a Pastor to women in a local Church, a Deacon, a global missions team member and committed volunteer in many capacities in the Church. She is licensed and ordained for Christian ministry with Resurrection Apostolic International Network, R.A.I.N. Ministries and is a member of the International Association of Healing Ministries, I.A.H.M. She has authored two books, available through her website, janetdecaster.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *