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How to cope with losing a dog: 10 Ways to Heal After Losing a Pet

How to Cope With the Loss of a Dog

For anyone grieving the death of a pet, the pain can be overwhelming. Many dog owners view their canine companions as much more than an animal — to them, they’re members of the family. Losing your best friend is heartbreaking and can leave behind a profound sense of emptiness and loss.

Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Each person deals with grief differently, but that doesn’t make the death any less painful. Some people find it hard to express their feelings because not everyone around them understands the gravity of the loss, especially if they’ve never had a dog of their own.

Lynette Whiteman, a caregiver who runs a therapy dog program in New Jersey for the elderly and individuals with dementia, has learned through her professional work and personal losses that having a supportive family member or friend to talk to helps with the grieving process. “People who are not dog lovers don’t understand what the big deal is, and that can be very damaging,” she says.

Moira Anderson Allen, author of “Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet,” adds, “If someone has never experienced this kind of relationship, they genuinely don’t know how important it is to those of us who have.”

Join a Pet Loss Support Group

In our time of sadness, what we hope for is someone who is compassionate, even if that person lacks the understanding of why we are grieving. But as Allen points out, it is sometimes difficult to find that support.

Heidi McBain, a licensed professional counselor based in Texas, suggests seeking out like-minded people who have been where you are. “Social media and online groups are good places to start,” she says. Also, private therapy and support hotlines and/or groups, offer a safe place to open up and connect with others going through similar experiences.

A great place to start is the AKC Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook. The private Facebook group offers group members a place to grieve and comfort one another.

“It’s important to understand you shouldn’t grieve alone,” says Mary Brosnan, a social worker and leader of the group. “The most important thing you can get out of a group is the sense that there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you do.”

Memorializing Your Dog

In addition to seeking support, there are easy ways you can honor your beloved pet’s memory.

  • Commemorate his life: One of the best ways to find closure is to hold a memorial service. Whether you choose to bury your dog or scatter his ashes in a place that holds special meaning, a memorial service gives you and your family the chance to say goodbye. Some people also find cremation jewelry to be meaningful.
  • Create a legacy: Plant a tree or flowers in your dog’s favorite spot; name a star in his honor; create a shadow box with items like a collar, toy, or blanket; have a portrait rendered; place a memorial stone in your garden; or get creative with your dog’s photographs by making a scrapbook. “These are some of the ideas I’ve shared with people I work with,” says Afton Strate, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist.
  • Start new traditions: On your dog’s birthday, acknowledge his life by volunteering at a local shelter or donate to an animal charity in his name, Strate suggests. Aug. 28 marks Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, so take a moment to look back on the joy, laughter, and unconditional love he brought to your life.
  • Professional photos: Having photographs of your dog is priceless, especially after he passes away. Jenna Regan, a professional pet photographer in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, often photographs dogs at the end of their lives. “I’ve had many clients hire me specifically to capture the last, and often first, professional photos of their dog,” she says. “My clients tell me that having these photos of happy moments together means a lot to them, and the experience plus the resulting images help them through the grieving process.

Do Dogs Mourn?

When you lose a pet, it can be difficult for surviving pets, as well. Dr. Mary Burch, director of the AKC Family Dog Program and a certified animal behaviorist, points out that dogs demonstrate their grief in different ways. They may become lethargic and less active, have a decreased appetite, or stay close to the deceased animal’s bed or favorite spot.

Owners can help their surviving dog cope by giving him lots of love and attention. Dr. Burch suggests trying new activities together, like a basic training class such as AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program, or even a hike. The goal is to find things to share with your dog while you both mourn.

Just how long grief lasts varies for everyone. For some, bringing a new dog into the home sooner rather than later can help ease the pain. For others, it takes longer to open up their hearts and home again. Just remember, it’s completely natural to mourn the loss of a dog, and you’re never alone in your grief.

An expert’s guide to dealing with the heartbreak of losing a pet

From dogs and cats to tortoise and fish – there are few small animals we haven’t brought into our homes and loved as pets over the years.

According to research from the UK Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) 62% of households in the UK were said to have owned some kind of pet in 2022, making us an undeniably animal-loving nation.

Despite this fact (and the reality that there are people losing their animals daily), we tend to shy away from discussing our feelings when it comes to pet grief.

In one 2019 study, researchers found that 25% of owners ‘took between 3 and 12 months to accept the loss of their pet, 50% between 12 and 19 months, and 25% took between 2 and 6 years, to recover’.

Clearly, more of us are struggling than we might care to recognise. So, we spoke to grief and bereavement expert, Lianna Champ, about the best ways to remove the stigma and tackle this strangely taboo issue.

With over 40 years’ experience and a practical guide, How to Grieve like a Champ, under her belt, Lianna is an expert in how to deal with loss of any kind, including your pets. This is what she told us.

Give yourself permission to grieve

One of the most important things we can do, according to Lianna, is to be honest about our feelings and recognise that they are valid. After all, ‘grief is grief,’ she explains, adding that some people can often feel more pain from the loss of a pet, than a relative. ‘It is important to allow yourself to feel devastated by losing a pet and understand the significance of the relationship you had.’

While those without pets might not be as sympathetic, that doesn’t mean these feelings of loss can be any less painful, says Lianna. ‘What determines the level of grief felt is not whether the loss relates to a human or animal, but rather the strength of the relationship between the person grieving and the human or animal that has sadly passed away,’ she says.

Don’t shy away from discussing your feelings

Most of us will drone on for hours about the joy that comes with owning pets. And yet when they die? We’re often silent on the matter, reluctant to discuss or admit the pain which comes with losing an animal.

According to Lianna, human grief is something we are more likely to take time out for to seek help, or work through properly, meaning that we are often better positioned to cope with its effects. But when it comes to animals, the same just can’t be said. Often, she explains, ‘it’s because we feel that we don’t have societal permission to grieve in the same way as we would with humans.’

One way to feel more comfortable about grieving the loss of a pet, Lianna suggests, is to regularly talk or share stories about your pet with people around you. This, she says helps to set up a support network of people who know just how much that pet meant to you and will already have a level of understanding if you happen to then lose a pet.

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Recognise the impact losing a pet can have on wellbeing

The physical and mental health benefits of owning a pet are well known, from a dog’s ability to get you out walking in the fresh air every day, to the soothing, stress-busting capacities stroking a cat can elicit. In fact, research conducted last year found that owning a pet, especially for five years or longer, may be linked to slower cognitive decline in older adults.

Then there’s the unconditional element of the love a pet offers – something which is too often overlooked, says Lianna. Unlike those complicated relationships with our fellow humans, the relationships we have with pets are free from conflict, or compromise.

‘Humans often treasure the unconditional love and comfort they can get from a relationship with an animal because pets don’t get caught up in drama like humans do,’ explains Lianna. The wellbeing impact of that ‘drama’ can be significant too – research from 2020 found that troubled (human) relationships can double our risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

So, when someone says losing their pet was harder for them than losing a relative, believe them. After all, many pet owners might not form the same type of relationship with humans, meaning their grief for their animal could be the strongest emotional reaction they have to death, explains Lianna.

Be honest with your kids about the loss

When it comes to communicating the death of a pet with children, Lianna urges parents to prioritise honesty as much as possible. ‘This is because losing a pet can be a positive way to educate kids on how death is a natural and expected part of life,’ she explains.

A part of this honesty is trying not to conceal your own emotions fully in front of your children in a bid to shield them. ‘Your raw emotions might act to provide comfort and show humility to a child who also feels upset and wants a figure to relate or talk to about their feelings,’ she emphasises.

Alongside this, Lianna outlines the importance of using language that is easy to understand as a way of helping younger children grapple with death. ‘Given the complexity of the concept, honesty and clear vocabulary are key to teaching your children how natural the process is.’

So, avoid confusing euphemisms like “passed away”, “gone to live over the rainbow” and “moved on” etc. Instead, explain to them clearly and precisely what has happened, and be ready to give them the support they need.

Don’t rush to replace your lost pet

Lianna suggests that we tend to replace our pets soon after they die as a quick fix solution to cover up feelings of loss. However, this won’t necessarily help you. ‘Buying a new pet to replace another prevents us from sitting with the grief to accept it and move on in a healthy way,’ she says. ‘It also makes it harder to form a bond with your next pet if you do not leave time to grieve in-between.’

As for your kids? While replacement is a popular course of action, substituting your pet with another could have a damaging effect on your children’s understanding of death. ‘Replacing a pet without explaining to the child what has happened or why it has happened will minimise a child’s relationship or affinity to their pet,’ she explains. ‘Telling your child, “you can go Buy a new one on Monday” will prevent them from working through their loss in an open and healthy way.’

Need something else to help with the heartbreak? Here are three different things you can help your child, or family cope with the emotional heartbreak of losing a pet.


According to grief expert Lianna Champ

  1. Find an appropriate way to commemorate. You could cremate, bury, or perhaps plant a tree to celebrate the life of your deceased pet. Commemorating and celebrating the end of their life can be a really key and special part of the bereavement process.
  2. Share and celebrate memories. Displaying photos of your pet who has passed away in your house, or sharing them with others, is a nice way to feel their presence after they are gone and remember their legacy. You could even get your children to create memory boxes, or scrap books as a way to work through your loss collectively.
  3. Volunteer at an animal sanctuary. It can be hard for families that have lost a pet to form a bond with another pet straight away. Instead of buying a new pet, try volunteering with other animals – it’ll help you work through your loss whilst being surrounded and comforted by other animals.

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience as a grief specialist and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ.

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If you are reading this article, surely the pet meant a lot to you – the more difficult it is to survive a breakup. Psychologists say that if there was a close emotional connection between a person and a dog, the pain of her death is comparable to the experience of the death of a loved one.

The owner of a dead dog often faces misunderstanding, devaluation: “It’s just an animal, get another one!” But the heart knows: this way the loss cannot be healed.

And yet, over time, the bitterness of loss must go away, giving way to bright memories. We will talk about what will help to survive the death of a dog.

“Love for pets is part of the love commanded by God to man. The biblical view of animals is simple: they are beautiful creatures of God, but they are arranged in such a way that they are different from humans, – explains priest Sergiy Kruglov. “They, like all earthly nature, are completely obedient to God and the laws according to which He ordered them to exist. The concept of free will, the ability to disobey God and His laws are unknown to them. They are just known to man. It is a person who is truly unclean, capable of sinning and resisting God – just as, however, he is capable of both repenting and being saved.

Just as the Creator once said about His creation “Very well!”, He still loves His creatures, big and small, and just like us, or even worse, He worries when they suffer and rejoices when they rejoice.” Therefore, our pain due to the illness or, moreover, the death of a dog, although not comparable with the loss of a loved one, is quite natural and deserves respect.

Tips on how to get over the death of a dog

Tips from a psychologist Daria Savchenko

Everyone has the right to live their grief the way they choose. Keyword: choose. With its help, I want to give more meaning to the process of mourning, to set a person up for the fact that his life is in his hands, even in a difficult situation of losing a loved one.

Psychologists distinguish natural stages of experiencing a significant loss, and we will focus on the main ones in order to legalize the most diverse feelings that may arise in us at the same time, and set a guide for healing. However, I repeat: everyone chooses how to go through this path.

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How to help a child who is acutely experiencing the death of a dog?

Having learned about the death of a beloved animal, at the first moment a person may experience a shock, refuse to believe that this has happened. “It can’t be,” “It’s impossible.” This is the stage of negation. It plays the role of protecting our psyche, creates a kind of buffer between us and the harsh reality, where misfortunes are possible, does not allow excessive experiences to flood us.

It is important not to get stuck at this stage, not to go into illusion. If a person walks along the same route that he used to walk with a dog, imagining that his pet is still alive, or even more so buying food and new toys, this may indicate a pathological experience of loss. It is important to seek help from relatives or professionals. You can go to the burial place, read the medical diagnosis, speak out your pain, sharing it with others.

Writing practices can also help. For example, “State Diary”. We divide a sheet of paper (it’s better to do it on paper, because when writing words by hand, we also turn on the function of motor response, while when working with a gadget, the entire load falls on our already tired brain) into 4 columns. In the first we describe any event that happened to us during the day, in the second – what thoughts arose in this case, in the third – what feelings we experienced, and, finally, in the fourth – what sensations appeared in the body, you can add a fifth column What action did we take?

  1. When I went outside, I heard a dog barking,
  2. For a moment I thought it was my dog. Then I remembered that he was no more.
  3. I felt very sad and sad.
  4. I felt like crying.
  5. I sat down on a bench and burst into tears.

This practice will help you to realize and live your feelings.

From denial, we begin to gradually move towards acceptance of the situation. However, this does not mean at all that it becomes easier for us.

We may find strong negative emotions in ourselves. We can be angry at ourselves (“I didn’t see it, I didn’t save it …”) and at others (“They didn’t help!”, “They don’t understand how I feel now”). This is the stage of anger. Here you can get carried away looking for the guilty, drown in a thirst for revenge, harm yourself, ruin relationships with others.


  1. Mom suggested that I clean up my dog’s toys and take them to the shelter.
  2. She betrayed the memory of my dog.
  3. I’m terribly angry with her.
  4. Shaking with anger, clenching my fists.
  5. I scream and growl, I threw the phone against the wall.

We have the right to any feelings, but not to any actions. Having recognized the feeling of anger in yourself, try to find a suitable action to defuse it: a loud cry, crying, sports, tearing a piece of paper, sobbing. Try to track your desire to throw your phone at the wall and have time to replace the phone with slippers. Be sure to record your success in your diary. This will help you move on.

Next stage — auction . A person is trying to make a deal, to negotiate with God, with fate, with himself: “If I do this” or “If I never do this again…”, then everything will be as before, will return to its place. Unnecessary rules, obsessive movements may appear. This is the final defense in the process of mourning. Performing this or that action, we ask ourselves why I do it. Does it help me? How else can I help myself? Here you can think about what can be done in memory of a departed animal – not in order to return it (it cannot be returned), but precisely in order to honor its memory. Maybe write a story about him or make a photo album. It’s great if several people take part in its compilation.

Then comes the stage of depression. Everything seems meaningless, there is no strength: “I am in a hole and will never get out of here”, “Diaries do not help”. At this stage, a person really encounters grief for the first time, but there really is not much strength left. It’s time to gather those that are left and support yourself – on your own or seek help. Consider who in your community you can ask for support. You can even draw a map of your surroundings.

Photo jmpznz Flickr

Take a piece of paper and draw a big circle. In the center of the circle, identify yourself by putting the letter “I”, and around place those who are close to you (physically or emotionally). It can be family members, distant relatives, online acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, even symbolic figures, such as people who are no longer alive, but we can draw on good memories of them and imagine how they would have acted in our situation. Think about which of these people you could ask for help? What exactly could they do for you? Prepare food? Watch a movie with you? Walk together? Most often, people like to help, they just need to be told how.

Having gone through these stages, we gradually learn to live in new circumstances. The sadness of losing a beloved dog has not gone anywhere, but we can recognize it and have learned to be with it. It does not block our actions, we do not close ourselves off from the rest of the world, we do not revel in our pain, we build it into our lives. The stage of acceptance has arrived. Someone at this stage may think about getting a new dog or cat, someone will help the animals in the shelter. And someone will give up the idea of ​​becoming attached to an animal again, knowing that it will inevitably leave. And he will have every right to do so.

Our animals teach us not only simple and pure love, affection, unconditional acceptance. They give us a source of joy and sorrow. They teach us to accept death.

How can a child cope with the death of a dog?

  • Preschoolers and elementary schoolers can choose a game. Simulate and reproduce the death of an animal with toys. If this worries you, you can join the child’s game and bring elements of a constructive experience of loss into it: knock on the game world with a figure of a good fairy, wrap a grieving character in a warm blanket, give him milk to drink, give a magic crystal of “bright memory”.
  • Children under 10-12 years old, as a rule, are guided by their parents in how they relate to a particular event in life. If mom and dad are not heartbroken, do not forget about the rest of their lives, give themselves time to recover, then children can take an example from their parents. Especially if the topic of death is not taboo in the family and children can talk about it with their parents. In such a situation, the resources of each family member are multiplied and it becomes easier to cope with any stress.

    At the same time, it is important to give the child time for self-healing, so that he can restore himself, using the method that suits him for this.

  • Teenagers, more than anyone else, may need time and trust from adults. Perhaps this is their first independent experience of loss. During this period, if necessary, you can reduce the academic load – the brain needs resources to digest what happened.

Priest’s advice

We asked the priest what to do if the pain of parting with an animal does not go away and does not decrease for a long time. Archpriest Sergiy Kruglov answers.

There are no ready-made recipes here —. I will say one thing: here, just as in relation to a deceased loved one, the whole point is our love for the departed, in its quality, which is more in it – namely love or the possessive “I” and the emotions associated with it, illusions, desires. The one you love, whether it be a person, or a cat, or a dog, must be released, do not try to detain him in this mortal world. And to live and endure separation with humility, patience, prayer to God.

With what prayer? How to pray for a dead pet? Do not get hung up on prayer, so to speak, official. For God, it is not important according to what patterns and in what place the prayer is pronounced, whether we pray aloud or not. For Him, it is more important how much faith we put into it (“According to your faith, let it be to you”), how much love.

Prayer for animals is also important because you cannot entrust it to a priest, you cannot get away with submitting a note to the temple, which you could submit about a person, here is a different situation, and you have to do it yourself.

How would I pray, with what words? I certainly wouldn’t selfishly dictate to God what to do, like: “Take my Sharik to heaven!” – and would not put ultimatums: “If you don’t accept, I won’t believe in You!”. And something like this: “God! My pet, whom I love, has died. You are the Creator of heaven and earth, I believe and know that You love us all. It’s very hard for me now. What can I do about this heaviness? What can I change when I remember that I didn’t do something for him, I could, but I didn’t add something, I was guilty of something before him? He left, and this is reality, this is the path of all earthly beings. But I believe, Lord, You have made it so that for all who love You, death is only a part of life, that life lives. I entrust myself with my sufferings and the deceased pet into Your hands. And with humility and patience, with hope and all my, albeit not particularly strong, faith, I will wait for You to do everything Yourself.”

How I survived the death of a dog (personal experience)

“I’ve had a dog all my life, but Akim the Newfoundland was the hardest loss. He lived with us from my very childhood and died when I was already grown up, – says Anna P. – We had to put him to sleep, because he was terminally ill and suffered a lot, but still there was a feeling of guilt.

We did not hesitate to cry, we talked and remembered a lot about him. Now there are pet cemeteries, then it was not so common, and I regret that there was no place left to go. But we had photos and even videos with Akim, which we reviewed. We did not immediately throw away his toys – it was easier for us to hold on to visual memories of what he was.

Today I would definitely turn to a psychologist. I was supported by my best friend, who spent hours listening to my stories about Akim (here it is important to find someone who will listen without commenting “it’s just a dog”).

I dreamed of Akim for a long time. Gradually, from constant thoughts about the loss and how he left, we moved on to bright memories of how he came to us as a puppy, played naughty, gnawed books. I know that this does not help everyone, but I finally survived, probably only when, many years later, I had two puppies at once, which I picked up on the street, and then another newf. We all finally resigned ourselves, only touching memories of how Akim lived with us, and the joy that he was with us, remained.

Petr Doroshenko’s dog died of natural causes, and the owner believes that it was right for both of them to personally see the dog on his last journey: “It was more pleasant and calmer for him. I saw (precisely saw, not only heard) his last breath. Trust me, it’s not scary.” Situations are different, says Petr, but at some point it became clear to him that he would not be able to cure the dog. “The decision was made to stop injecting, dropping and harassing procedures, leave the dog alone, cancel the diet, walk as much as the dog wants,” he recalls. – Oddly enough, even a very sick dog can sometimes jump with his favorite toy like a puppy.

If you have money, bury your dog with dignity. If there is a cottage, then there are no questions at all. And in the city, spend money on that cremation, where they will give you an urn. For me, this is a debt of memory to a friend dog. It’s terrible to imagine that his body can be thrown somewhere.”

“The best thing you can do in memory of your dog is to arrange the fate of another dog by taking it from a shelter, or saving it from death abandoned on the street, in the country, in the forest,” says Peter. – Imagine that you are faithful to a dead pet, but at the same time you will not help a living creature, which in an urbanized society is perhaps even more vulnerable than a person.

Another question: you shouldn’t force yourself. You can give yourself a pause, or you can not look for a dog on purpose, but use the opportunity that has turned up. For example, you will meet a dog in trouble. The new dog is not a surrogate for the old one and not a donor of positive emotions or comfort, but rather your new friend and new personality.

How to survive the death of a dog: advice from psychologists

Contents of the article

Taking a puppy into the house, a person after a short time begins to understand that he has become an equal member of the family. He has his favorite place, a bowl, a bone, a leash …

“We are responsible for those we have tamed”

or later, the owner will have to endure the death of a pet.

Such tests do not always go smoothly and painlessly for the owner and his family.

He was my friend

People, having lost their beloved dog, which had a serious age or suffered from an extremely serious illness, experience various negative emotions. In one case, they are “killed”, because it seems to them that life is over, they begin to torment themselves with thoughts about where they made a mistake, why they did not choose the time to visit the veterinary clinic.

In another, suffering from the loss and realizing that they are missing a pet painfully, they understand that they have done everything in their power, but age or illness did not give a chance for a successful outcome. However, they understand that this ended the severe suffering of the pet.

Both described types of behavior are united by a sense of loss and a bad state of a person. Everyone understands that it must somehow survive, but do not know how. In fact, everything is not so simple . ..

I feel out of place

The loss of a pet is especially difficult for single people. All day long they had a schedule that included walking the dog, buying food, eating, socializing. A difficult life period in the event of the loss of a pet is complicated for the owner by the fact that his environment does not share the experiences, considers them exaggerated.

Inseparability of grief aggravates suffering, a person feels out of place, nothing makes him happy, he wants nothing. He is completely immersed in memories and feels sadness, longing, even despair.

How to get through the grief

Psychologists divide the time of overcoming the tragedy into five phases that every dog ​​owner goes through with the only difference in emotional intensity depending on the character of the person:

  • Phase 1. Stressful situation.

The loss of a beloved pet is certainly stressful, even, to some extent, a shock for the owner. But no one canceled the ritual duties, because everything falls on the shoulders of the owner of the dog. At a difficult moment, organizing a funeral will require a person to switch and help to distract from longing.

To resolve funeral issues, it is better to contact a specialized service, whose contacts can be easily clarified through a veterinary clinic.

To be guided by common sense, in a stressful situation one should not fuss, panic. It is enough to listen to yourself, count to ten and just breathe calmly for a while.

Now you can focus and solve the problems of burying and continuing life after the dog leaves.

When you return home, you should try to occupy yourself with everyday activities – wash the dishes, vacuum the carpet, clean up, or just read a book. If necessary, take a mild sedative. This is necessary in order to dull the attacks of mental pain that come in waves.

  • Phase 2. Intolerance with loss.

The feeling that you need to rush home from work and take a walk with the dog does not leave the person. At home there are things that have become unnecessary – bowls, a leash, toys. All this resonates with severe pain in the heart, because the need to take care of someone has formed, and now there is emptiness nearby. There is still no mood for acquiring a new pet, and it is still too early not only to talk about it, but also to think about it.

In this case, it is better to visit a shelter with stray dogs, give them food, some of the pet’s things. This will save you from the minute-by-minute reminder of the departed pet and help block the heartache. There will be a bright feeling of joy from helping other dogs.

  • Phase 3. Guilt.

Human consciousness is such that it can replay several times the same moments of a dog’s illness or other details of its last days of life. This leads to self-flagellation, to depression: “Why didn’t I take her to the veterinary clinic right away, why did I look at changes in behavior? Now, if I had reacted in time, she would have been alive.

This is a dangerous path leading to neurosis and severe depression. It is necessary to accept what happened and tell yourself that everything has already happened and nothing could be changed either then or now.

It is better to share your suffering with those who have also experienced the loss of a pet, even if it was not a dog, but, for example, a hamster or a cat. Communication will help not withdraw into yourself and distract from annoying thoughts about your guilt.

  • Phase 4. Lifestyle change.

Lifestyle changes are stressful for a person: no usual duties, no need to follow a daily routine for walking with a dog or feeding it. It is urgent to fill this void with something, to find a new occupation. But getting another pet is not yet recommended – a person will unwittingly compare it with a departed friend, and it is unlikely that a new dog will be satisfied with the comparison.

A good option is to visit a homeless animal nursery to help.