Q: My neighbor's dog died and I wanted to express my sympathy. Is it weird to send condolences when a dog dies? What should I write?
It’s absolutely NOT weird. People love their pets and the death of a pet is a significant loss. Expressing your condolences when a dog dies is a meaningful gesture
Sometimes you hear pet owners say, after a person dies, something empathic like, “I get it, I once lost my dog.” Now, it can be hard sometimes to hear a dog equated with a person, but what’s really happening on the part of the pet owner is that they are comparing the amount of love they put into the relationship. Pet ownership can last for 15 years of unconditional love. That is a significant relationship shared by two living things.
So I think it’s completely appropriate to express condolences when a dog dies, or when any pet dies. What you’ve already done well here is you aren’t minimizing your neighbor’s loss. Rule number one in death, grief and loss is to always acknowledge. Don’t act as if it didn’t happen. You recognize that your neighbor had a relationship with a living creature in the house who is no longer there.
There are some qualities your dog has that
you wish your spouse had.
Think about it - No more greeting at the door, no more needing a walk. Nobody to love on after a tough day.
Dogs don’t judge us. They don’t say, “Hold on a minute, my day was worse.” I mean, there are some qualities your dog has that you wish your spouse had.
To offer condolences after a dog dies, I would apply the same rules of engagement as with a human. What level of relationship do you have with the neighbor? And what relationship did you have with Fido? Stores do sell pet sympathy cards, so you could look for that. Or maybe you just put a note in their mailbox, something as simple as, “We will miss his bark too.” Or, “We will miss saying hi to Fido on our morning walks.”
One reason that dogs in particular are viewed in such high regard is they can sense emotion, and they share our intimate living space that they don’t fill with words. They fill it with being present. A dog just sits with you and shares the intensity of emotion with you, in a way that a lot of humans can’t even fathom. That’s why dogs are so successful working in trauma care or therapy.
We are only beginning to explore the relationships that humans have with animals. For example, horses are the same, they have empathy and pick up on emotion. And now there are programs in which horses are working with kids with autism.
For pet owners, the death of a pet causes a very pure, uncomplicated grief. Even as adults with our kids, our love is somewhat conditional. But pets engender unconditional love. Pet sympathy cards aren’t the only method, but whatever form our gesture takes, we are right to honor that relationship.