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By Cesar Millan

Today, and the second Sunday of every September, is National Pet Memorial Day, and a good time to recall the words of George Carlin, who described every pet as “a small tragedy” just waiting to happen.

It almost seems like a cruel trick that most animals we keep as domestic pets have short lifespans compared to ours: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, rats, ferrets, fish.

Loss is a part of life, but it’s always hard when it comes time to say good-bye to a dog that has been part of the family for years. It’s a tricky balancing act to choose between quality and quantity of life, quite frequently ending in that most difficult decision of all — to let go and ask the vet to give those two shots that will bring relief to a dog’s suffering.

I like to think, though, that dogs don’t stay with us long because they have so much to give us and to teach us while they’re here.

One of their biggest lessons for us, of course, is living in the moment. Dogs don’t worry about the future or obsess on the past. They also have no concept of death, so the first consolation we can take when one of our dogs passes is that they did not leave us in fear, especially not if we were with them at the end — which, as Pack Leaders, we should be.

Of course, as humans, we do feel loss and hang onto the past, so it’s perfectly normal to grieve, although if you have other dogs you still need to maintain positive energy to keep your place as Pack Leader. In that case, focus on the happy moments — both those you shared in the past with your deceased dog, and the ones you’re sharing right now with the rest of your pack.

Also pay attention to how pack dynamics change. If you have two or more dogs left, there may be some jockeying for dominance which you’ll need to monitor and direct in order to avoid fights. If you only have one dog, watch for changes in her behavior — if she becomes moody, listless, or seems to be searching for the missing dog, then she’s grieving, too. You can help the most by giving her more exercise by taking longer walks together.

Whether or not to adopt a new pack member for your remaining dog is something you can really only determine once you’ve both settled into the new routine. Does it feel like something is missing, or does your dog seem to be happier as an “only?”

If you don’t have any other dogs, it can be tempting to run out right away and rescue, and rescuing a dog is the best tribute you can give to honor the memory — but the important thing to keep in mind is to not bring a new dog into your home until you’re over the grief. While saving a life is always noble, bringing a dog into a home full of sad and negative energy is not a good way to start. Take your time, and then find the dog with the right energy for your home and lifestyle.

If you’ve had sufficient time to get beyond the grieving and sadness, then there are other ways to memorialize a dog that has passed. The creators of National Pet Memorial Day suggest things like spending time reflecting upon happy moments you spent with your dog; visiting your dog’s grave, if there is one; donating to a humane or rescue organization; volunteering at a shelter; or creating a memorial by planting a tree. I’d add that the best way to honor a deceased dog is to save the life of another — adopt, don’t shop, and give a shelter dog a second chance.

While George Carlin may have described pets as “a small tragedy” waiting to happen, I’d prefer to think of dogs in a completely different way. “Huge miracles that we are privileged to enjoy.”There is no other species on Earth that has developed such a close bond with humans, and sharing that bond, for no matter how long or short a time, is the greatest gift that Nature has given us. They may leave us too soon, but they always leave us with good memories and they always leave us with all the love they have in their hearts.

Stay calm, and appreciate the miracle!

Share with us the best memory you have of a dog that is now gone.

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