You’re grieving while helping your clients grieve
As a dog walker, I’ve naturally had several clients’ dogs and cats die from old age over the years.
Part of loving dogs is losing dogs, and the more I allow into my life, the more I will lose.
Losing a client’s dog is nothing close to losing my own dog, but it is still a loss.
When I spend time walking a dog, running a dog, even sharing a bed with a dog at times, I form a bond.
I get to know each of these dogs, almost as though they are my own. I know how they like to be scratched and talked to. Which toys they love, which dogs they are or aren’t friends with in the neighborhood.
I know exactly how many minutes into the walk and at which corner they’re going to poop. 🙂 I see how they embrace the rain or the snow or the mud puddles. I see pure joy every single time I open the door and pick up a leash.
And likewise, I do sometimes find myself allowed into the personal lives of the dog owners, too, as I’m there caring for the pets while my clients go through life’s challenges – bringing home a new baby, marriages, deployments, family illnesses, the loss of a spouse.
I did not realize I would become a part of the support system, but I sometimes am.
What to do when a client’s dog passes away
Sometimes the death is sudden, and I don’t get to say goodbye. I will get an email that goes something like, “Hershey was hit by a car today” or “Sunny got really sick and we decided to put her down.”
Those are the hardest for me.
And sometimes, more often, the pet is just really old. I always hope for more time, but there’s never really enough.
And there are some cases, a few, where the dog is put down due to aggression, and I can only imagine how hard that decision must be. And even lonelier for the owners as people question why?
And still other pets, some far too young, are sick with something like cancer and it is sometimes a long decline over several weeks or months or even longer.
The walks might get shorter or slower. Sometimes, we begin skipping the walks all together and instead head out for a quick potty break and then relax together on the floor.
Sometimes, my clients ask me, “Is it time? Should I put her down?”
And I don’t tell them what I would do.
Because it’s their dog and they know best and frankly my opinion doesn’t matter.
I’ve learned, as a dog walker, not to give my opinion but to listen. And not to share my own stories, my own sadnesses, because this is not about me but about them.
Five things a dog walker can do when a dog dies
When the time comes when I get the call or the text or the email, “Simon is no longer with us,” I try to do these few things.
I am not perfect, and I’m sure I don’t always do or say the right things. Everyone grieves differently, after all. All I can do is try.
So when a dog passes on, I try to do these things:
1. I reply to the message and say how sorry I am to hear the news, but I keep it brief.
2. I send a card, sometimes flowers, sometimes pictures I’ve taken over the years, either printed out or digital copies.
3. I offer a hug, if it seems appropriate.
4. I listen, if the client seems to want to talk. I do not push it if they do not.
5. I offer to continue the normal walks if they have another dog. And I also give the option of taking a break for as long as they need. Most want to continue the normal routine – for the sake of the remaining dog – even if the death occurred that very morning.
As dog walkers, we are not trained to do these things, and there is not exactly a “right” way to handle a client’s loss. (See my post on what to do when a friend loses a dog.)
If you are a dog walker, dog runner or pet sitter, I’m interested in how you handle these losses. I feel like we get closer to these dogs than other professionals. We form different bonds than they might form with a vet, a groomer, a trainer.
I know I learn to celebrate the time I do have with each dog, because I know it’s never long enough.
I might cry a little with each loss or just feel sad, but I’m also thankful I got to make a difference in each dog or cat’s life, even a small difference.
As they do the same for me.
How do you handle these losses, if you’re a dog walker?
If you’ve ever hired a dog walker, what’s something she did for you when your pet died?
In memory of all the dogs and cats I’ve loved, now gone.