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.
Monday 20th of March 2017
Having just lost a dog whilst in my care ( unexpected death through illness) I found your article very useful and comforting. One thing that I would like to stress to all those caring for someone's beloved pet, whether a professional or friend/ family member, is to take photos. Lots of photos. When tragedy strikes, no one knows when or where and photos can be an amazing source of comfort to absent doggy parents.
Monday 20th of March 2017
So sorry to hear one of the dogs you cared for has died.
Saturday 26th of November 2016
It took me a while to find a post online about the death of a dog from a walker/sitter point of view and this post says it all.
This just happened to me for the first time. It's heartbreaking.
Saturday 26th of November 2016
Aww, so sorry to hear that.
Monday 11th of May 2015
I've been a Dog-Walker for a few years. From my experience, my clients are all very caring people who want the best for their pets. It's apparent how much the dogs are loved by their demeanors. And I become close to the clients because of their furry family member. Especially the ones that I handle regularly. It's been difficult the few times that there have been deaths. Depending on how the client wishes to inform me of their loved-ones passing (ie: text or phone), I will initially respond in-kind. It's hard to not get emotional when speaking to the client, but I try to remain calm, and grieve later so that the client doesn't see it. Most don't want to talk too much when they are delivering the bad-news, I believe they are experiencing the shock of loss and I certainly don't want to add to it. Within a day, I make a personalized card on my computer with a removable picture (I take lots of pictures with my phone and often send one with the "walk-report") on the front of the card and a copy of the Rainbow Bridge poem on the inside. I always receive a Thank-You of how much they appreciate the sentiment. When I receive the Thank-You, I schedule a follow-up for an "Exit-visit" (opposite of a Meet-n-Greet) so that I can return their key and refund any monies that may be due. It's then, that we generally sit down and talk about OUR shared loss. And many times we are experiencing the loss of a friendship that has grown out of love for the same dog.
Wednesday 25th of March 2015
That's such an interesting angle Lindsay, I've never thought about the situation the dog walkers are put in. I like all the things you suggest. I can't imagine having someone ask you if you think they should put their pet down. Of course it makes sense why they ask, especially when you're spending hours a day with the animal. Still, what a hard answer to give!
Our mail woman of MANY years was transferred to a different neighborhood shortly after our dog died. She was always so nice to him, and would throw him a dog biscuit if he was outside when she dropped of the mail. It made me very sad to realize that she would never know he had passed. It's funny sometimes when you realize your dog may have had relationships with other animals and people you never even knew much about.
Thursday 26th of March 2015
Oh that would make me sad too (your example with the mail woman).
Sunday 22nd of March 2015
You are a good dog walker. The kindest thing that 2 people did for me when we lost Blue was talk with me for a few hours (yes, a long time) to distract me from my pain. We didn't talk about Blue. A Aussie breeder I know told me about her dogs and she's had many and we talked and laughed about her dogs. A dog trainer gave me tips on managing our pack while mourning our dogs and told me stories of when she was pregnant and how tempted her dogs were to misbehave, because she wasn't on her game. I so appreciated both of their time.
Monday 23rd of March 2015
Thank you Kimberly. Your example shows that sometimes it IS nice when people talk about their own dogs when you are dealing with your own dog's death. Everyone handles grief differently.