Rocky the dog was Sandra Rogoza’s constant companion and best friend for nearly 11 years. This cute little purebred Pomeranian, who resembled a tiny bear cub, came to Rogoza as a four-month-old puppy and brightened her life from the very start.
This past January, Rocky suddenly became ill. Rogoza and her husband rushed him to an emergency veterinary clinic where they were told that one of Rocky’s heart valves had failed and there was no way to save him.
Rogoza was devastated. She went from shock and numbness, to constant weeping. The house and her heart were empty without Rocky. She initially put away his bed, toys and water dish, but soon brought them all back out again. This gave Rogoza some comfort.
She was grateful for the support she received from her family, friends and even acquaintances, who allowed her to express her feelings surrounding the loss of such a significant being in her life.
For people who are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, it’s critical to normalize the process and the experience, says clinical art therapist Straja Linder King, who specializes in animal-assisted therapy and equine therapy and teaches an animal-assisted art therapy course through the University of Lethbridge.
“Pet loss is disenfranchised grief,” says Linder King. “As a society, we still do not recognize that loss at the depth it should be, and we need to take it seriously. Many people are debilitated, and the grief goes deep.”
It’s the loss of the relationship that people grieve, Linder King explains. “They are members of the family. A relationship with your dog is 24/7 — it’s everything. Your relationship is about friendship, trust and the joyfulness of being together.” she says.
“We have loved a sentient being and then they’re gone. The grief is very real and we grieve as deeply as we love. Grief is not linear — it’s circular, it’s organic, and moves with its own beauty and grace,” she says. “And it’s lovely to have support and someone to accompany you as you go through the grieving process, whether it’s a professional you work with, or friends and family.”
For her part, Rogoza recognized that grief is a process and not something to turn off like a light switch. And she feels joy again. She and her husband welcomed another Pomeranian puppy into their lives.
“Leo has brought a tremendous amount of joy to our lives. The moment he came into the house, it was like he had been there for years and immediately bonded and adjusted to us. Leo is certainly not a replacement for Rocky — he brings his own uniqueness,” says Rogoza.
“Having a pet adds another dimension to a person’s life,” she adds. “It also reminds us there is a cycle to life and to appreciate every single moment of every day. Having gone through this process reminds me to be mindful of how we treat others, and how we treat our pets — because just like a human baby, dogs are completely dependent on us.
“What they want most is love and attention, just like all of us. And they love us unconditionally. That’s the biggest life lesson.”