If you've ever lost a person you love, you know how powerful dog emotional support can be to you. The healing power of dogs is something that never loses its touch or goes out of style. They provide loving cuddles, lighten the atmosphere, and bring a sense of stability into a time when everything is difficult.
Even though it may not feel like it at the time, the world still goes on around you when you lose someone. There are things that still need tending to, and a pet can be a caring reminder of those responsibilities. Dogs don't just require nourishment and a place to relieve themselves; they also need regular exercise and attention from you.
At the same time, dogs are loving animals who pick up on your own emotional needs and help keep you emotionally healthy. They can help people cope by offering extra cuddles and attention–reciprocating the same affection you give them on a daily basis.
Emotional support from dogs is a blessing when you need one the most. Here are two stories of real dogs who helped their pet parents through the sudden loss of a family member.
Leonora and Jack
Leonora has had Jack since September 2004, but he was just a pup then, about eight weeks old.
"After I lost my mom in January of 2014, there were days when getting out of bed seemed impossible and, dare I say, pointless. Jack didn't allow that," she says. "He relies on my husband and me for his walks, his food, fresh water, and for us to play with him."
And because he's been blind since 2012, he needs a little more attention than other dogs. This usually means they guide him around the house as needed. Generally he does fine, but if he gets excited or isn't paying attention, he'll get stuck in a corner of a room in their home. Leonora and her husband can't just let him out back to do his business, so they take him on several half-mile walks every day to ensure he does what he needs to do.
Just like a seeing-eye dog might for his owner, "Jack relies on us to be his eyes."
In addition to caring for him each day–on the many sleepless nights that still pop up–Leonora would get on the floor with Jack after her husband would go to sleep, put her head next to his, read a cheesy romance novel, stroke his fur, and let his breathing naturally calm her down. "We did a lot cuddling those first few months," she recalls, "until I was so tired I would crawl back into bed and fall asleep."
Grief can be paralyzing and lonely. One of the simple joys is Jack. He gets excited when his pet parents walk in the door after a day at work. He wags his tail in appreciation when they feed him. He greets them both at the door every time they come home (well, almost; he's slowed down a bit approaching the age of 12). "He'll lie with his head in my lap while I color or read, and I know that no matter what, he loves me unconditionally." That's what giving a dog emotional support does for you in return. "There were a few nights where I sobbed into his fur, which I discovered was quite absorbent," she jokes.
"It's funny that I have a husband, a job, [and] a family that needs me," she realizes, "but sometimes the only thing that helped me put one foot in front of the other was my dog, Jack."
Leonora has thrived off the support of family and friends, but sometimes dealing with sadness, denial, anxiety, or grief discourages you from talking about it, analyzing it, or even thinking about it. In his own way, she says, Jack has let her feel what she needs without offering various suggestions or wanting to fix it. That's a blessing.
"I'm thankful for Jack every day–he's been a big part of helping me through the last few years."
Samantha and Huckleberry
Samantha got Huckleberry in early July of 2015, and instantly everyone fell in love with him. "My husband Cory's family came to see our new house and meet our puppy. Everyone, including Sean [Cory's youngest brother], took an immediate liking to him. It was so nice to see how much he played with him and just like loved him. That was the last time everyone was together," she says.
On August 4, 2015, Sean was in an accident that he didn't survive.
The first thing Samantha did was grab Huckleberry and hold him. "He was a puppy, four months, and he stopped wiggling and trying to break free, and just let me hold him."
Once they reached Cory's parents' house, after all the initial hugs were over, everyone took turns just hugging or petting Huckleberry. And throughout the week they were there, he let people hold or pet him or cry with him.
"He was so calm," she remembers. "It's like he knew that's what everyone needed."
"At eleven months he's still a ball of energy, but even now when I get upset and think of Sean, he instinctively knows that I need him," she adds. "As soon as I start to cry he comes over and lets me grab him. I truly believe that not just to me, but to Cory's family, he was really a lifesaver. Everyone that walked through their front door took a few minutes with Huckleberry, and I really think for those moments they had holding him, he gave them the pure comfort they needed."
Cory and Samantha have been together for twelve years now. Having known Sean since he was 10, she doesn't think she would be where she is now, emotionally, if it weren't for the healing power of dogs like Huckleberry, and the constant dog emotional support and love he offered his family.
If you experience a powerful loss in your life, just know your pet's will be there for you in your time of trouble. There's no perfect solution to dealing with death, but don't forget to relying on your furry little best friend can be a great support for your emotional healing and how to find your way through the grieving period.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform–and even transform–its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.