I have come across many people think and refer to service dogs as pets. They are not. They are partners, workers, helpers, guides, servers, and team mates. Each service dog has a specific job to do and has been specially trained for that particular job.
The team is made up of dog and handler. The team helps and relies on each other so that life can continue in a positive way.
As a service dog handler, I watch out for my partner by providing basic care (food, shelter, exercise, love, healthy lifestyle, etc.) like any other dog owner. However, my responsibilities go way beyond that. Teams train together often, improving various skills relevant to the purpose of the dog’s job and human’s needs. Certification is required. They each must know and understand specialized signals so that the job will be successfully accomplished.
Each relies on the other. Handlers with challenges are assisted with everyday living skills. Without the dog, persons with challenges would not be able to comfortably function “normally” in their world. Often times, this assistance helps the person in daily activities and skills, but also brings about a confidence and sense of “normalcy” that is often missing in their lives without assistance. There is a bond that goes far beyond the bond one has for a pet. The double bond (personal assistant and trusted friend) goes very deep. As a team, they are a vital and intricate part of each other’s lives. They live and work together constantly.
I know first hand about the loss of a special partner. When a service dog dies, the handler grieves much deeper than might thought. The outward sign is that the dog is no longer by their side. This is in itself a constant reminder of loss. However, inside, this intense loss is hidden from others’ view. I, and others who have experienced this type of loss, have lost an important part of their lives. We have lost part of ourselves. Like any death of a loved one, the person goes through the grieving process. They will never “forget” about their partner, but they can move forward – each person moving at their own pace and in their own time.
For those who have experienced this, some of the things that might help with the loss of a service dog might include (but would not be limited to):
- Find a way to honor your team mate:
- Picture of him/her with you
- Shadow box holding valuable mementos such as dog tags, service vest, collar, leash, ID/certification card, etc.
- Donate to an organization associated with you and your team mate or a shelter in His/her name
- Plant a tree, shrub, or flowers in or near an outdoor area that was special to him/her.
- Write in a special Journal about your special experiences and memories.
- Allow creativity such as poem, art, etc. to express your love and gratitude to your partner.
- Allow yourself time to heal. Grieving is never a “quick” process. There will be good days and not so good days.
- Acknowledge that your service dog will Never be replaced.
- If you get a successor service dog, never compare the successor with your prior service dog. They are two different helpers. Each will have something special to offer you even if they are doing the same job.
- Talk with a friend, professional, or find a support group who can support you through this process as you move forward with your life.
If you would like more information on how we can support you through the loss of that special partner, go to the “Contact” page and message me. We would love to be able to help you. We have been there too.