Having A Dog During Times Of Great Stress Or Tragedy

Do you have a dog, and are you in the midst of a horrible life experience? What can be done?

It is always best to prepare for potential emergencies, if at all possible. It’s a good idea to stay in good physical shape, have extra supplies, be part of a healthy and loyal “tribe”, have expertise in a variety of basic skills, and have some basic plans in place in case of a variety of potential emergencies (a will; bug out plan; heath insurance; first aid training; fire extinguisher; etc.). It is also a good idea to make preparations in case of an emergency that might affect your dog, such as sufficient supplies, training, backup care plan in case you are incapacitated, backup medical supplies, first aid book, know what to do if there is a major catastrophe in your area and where to go with your dog, social network, backup boarding plan, and such. This is a huge topic, and an entire series of books could be written to address the multitude of bad things you and your dog might encounter sometime in the future.

However, sometimes bad things happen in such a way that our plans aren’t sufficient, or we had no way to prepare in advance. Such is life.

Everyone has a breaking point. If at all possible, you should know your weaknesses before that point is reached so you can deploy alternatives in case the worst happens. When that isn’t possible, you then have to do with what you have. In those circumstances, you have to think like you were stranded, with your dog, on a deserted island. First, is proper mindset: you need to get your head together and decide you are not going to panic, you and your dog are going to survive, you will do whatever it takes, and you will see this through, regardless of how you feel or what is going on. Panic is deadly, and your dog can’t make it if you fall apart. Next are the obvious factors of food, shelter, water, and first aid medical treatment. The rest will depend upon what else you are facing. However, your dog won’t come out well if you don’t take care of your basic needs first. That isn’t being selfish, it is being wise. If you don’t tend to these foundational parts, you will break and it will all fall apart.

Normally, a dog is a great source of comfort in human tragedies. Just as therapy dogs can make life bearable and more grounded, your dog can be a calming force. Taking your dog for a daily walk can oftentimes be a critical outlet for overwhelming stress and grief. A brisk 30 to 45 minute walk can keep you going emotionally. You won’t feel so well during the walk, but after the walk you’ll feel better, and consistently doing this every day can make a major positive impact on your life.

However, some tragedies are so huge, so time consuming, you will find you can’t take care of your dog sufficiently. In these cases, it is helpful to reach out to others for support. This is a good reason to be a good person. A friendly good person will develop friendships with friendly good people. Those people can be a critical lifeline for you and your dog. Sometimes that isn’t possible, so you need to hire a dog walker, find an animal rescue volunteer, or someone else to assist you during the tragedy. And in worst case scenarios, you sometimes have to find a new home for your dog. However, that doesn’t mean you drop your dog off at animal control to have them kill your dog. I saw a lot of people abandon their dogs during the Great Recession, and thousands of innocent dogs were put to death. I wouldn’t do that to a dog, and just because there is a tragedy in your life doesn’t mean you can morally give your dog a death sentence.

During tough times, you won’t be at your best. I get that. I’ve been there myself. It is hard to do well when you are barely treading water and having trouble keeping yourself from drowning. But, I didn’t abandon any of my dogs, I worked even harder, lived like a Spartan, and worked through it all. No one helped, I had to do it all. Laundry didn’t get done. The lawn wasn’t mowed and weeded. Bills piled up. And so on. But, I prioritized what I had, did what had to be done, the dogs were given affection, exercised (even when I was exhausted), fed and watered and vaccinated. I worked seven days a week, from early morning to late evening, I was miserable. I had a hard time having a good attitude, yet I never quit.

Here’s my advice: I don’t know what you are facing right now, but recognize you are in a survival situation. Get your head in gear, do the essentials for you and your dog, ask for help where you can honorably get it, and dig in for the long haul (which might be years of hardship).

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