How to Lose 5 Dogs in 2 Years and Still Stay Open for More

How to Lose 5 Dogs in 2 Years and Still Stay Open for More

For more than a decade I’ve built a professional and personal reputation based on how deeply I love and care for dogs. And then all my dogs were gone. This is the story of how I got through, what I learned, and what I wish everyone could understand about navigating the grief of losing a dog.

I lost all my dogs this past winter.

Lily, Georgia and Archie all died within six months of each other, to the exact day.

Lily – 11/16
Georgia – 1/16
Archie – 5/16

Duke and Tyler both died in the year and a half before that.

Five beloved dogs, all gone within two years.

Two years of rolling waves of grief, crashing one after another as I tried to keep my head up and breathe.

It’s also been two years of immense joy, presence and unconditional love. Two years of incredible growth and a fuller understanding of the deep resilience and strength within both me and my dogs.

I’m not trying to say that I handled all this loss with love and light and peace and joy. I didn’t. I had moments where I shut down, wanted to scream my rage at God/the Universe, and wallowed in the grief and self-pity.

Who wouldn’t?

We all know people who have lost one dog and refuse to get another, guarding their hearts from ever going through that type of pain again.

We’ve heard the studies that show how the death of a pet can cause more intense pain than the death of a close friend or relative.

We all know the person who can still be brought to tears by the mention of a pet’s name, even when that pet died 10 or more years ago.

In fact, the idea of losing a pet is so traumatic that I bet most people won’t read this post. I’ve worked with animal lovers for more than a decade and I know that the thought of losing their pet is so painful that many people can’t even approach the subject.

So how did I go through pet loss five times over in such a short time, and still come out willing and able to do it all again?

My dogs showed me how.

How to Live and Die Like a Dog

I watched how my dogs approached life and death, and I modeled them. Because frankly, when it comes to life and death, dogs do it better.

The biggest difference is that dogs stay PRESENT.

I remember photographing a client’s dog named Lolo. Lolo had hemangiosarcoma, but she didn’t know she was about to die. All she knew is that she was getting extra treats and her parents were spending more time with her than normal and she was loving it.

But the humans? We were sad. Her parents, understandably, dreaded the moment that the hemangiosarcoma would rupture, taking her away from them suddenly. I was aware that I was taking what might be the last photos of Lolo and her family. We were all holding back tears.

Meanwhile, look at the smile on Lolo’s face.

Yes, dogs grieve.

I have watched every one of my dogs grieve as they lost one sibling after another in the last two years. As a testament to their complex emotional lives, each of my dogs grieved differently. They do feel, they do love, they do experience loss.

They just don’t get stuck in it like humans do.

And most importantly, they don’t “pre-grieve,” that uniquely human feature where we dread and cry about our dogs’ impending death, basically from the moment we first fall in love with them.

Here’s what I saw happening in my own life: I was spending a lot of my dogs’ remaining time grieving as if they were already gone.

My dogs were still here, still with me, but I was heartbroken from the idea of losing them in the unknown future. When Duke was first diagnosed with cancer, I spent a lot of time feeling sad about losing him and grieving what hadn’t even happened yet. But then I noticed that he wasn’t feeling the same way. He was just being Duke, rolling in the grass, sleeping in sunbeams, and eating up all the bananas he could get.

How Duke reacted to his cancer diagnosis:

I started this practice with Duke, and with each dog that I lost over the next two years, I continued to practice and get better at it.

I tried to be in joy for every earthly moment that I had with them. I committed to saving the grief for the moment after they took their last breath.

I wasn’t stuffing my grief down. I was acknowledging it, but I was letting it know that it wasn’t time yet. There would come a time in the future when my dogs would take their last breaths, and that was when I would fully allow the grief to have its time. Until then, I reminded myself that in this present moment, I had nothing to be sad about. My dogs were still here, still happy, and all they really wanted was for me to be happy, too.

Being sad about something that hasn’t happened yet is a choice, and we do have the power to choose other thoughts.

We have the power to choose happier thoughts, or even to choose no thoughts at all and just enjoy what is happening in that very moment.

Because our minds are so good at imagining, we have the ability to imagine every dreadful scenario that could possibly break our hearts. We can imagine them so vividly that we start to feel them. And when we feel them, our bodies react as if it is actually happening.

Whether you are actually grieving the loss of a pet or just imagining it, the pain in your body and heart is the same.

I chose not to spend the time that I had left with my dogs imagining how it would feel to lose them. I chose to spend every moment that I could in the present with them, grateful that they were still with me. I had moments where I slipped, moments when the tears of imagined loss came even as I was petting the living, breathing dog in front of me. But my dogs always guided me right back to the present—because with so many dogs, someone always needs to poop.

When you’re crying about your dog’s future death, and that dog walks up to you and asks you to go outside, it’s a good reminder to get back to the present moment and enjoy what is right in front of you.

I didn’t know that I would lose all my dogs in such a short time, but I believe this practice helped me get through it. Yes, I experienced a lot of grief over the last two years. But for the most part, that grief only came after each dog’s last breath. In between, I had incredible moments of joy and presence and gratitude that were like life rafts in a storm of rolling waves of loss.

If I hadn’t chosen joy and presence, the last two years would have been an unbearable, unbroken stretch of sadness, and I’m not sure my body or mind would have survived that.

There was an additional benefit to choosing joy and presence while my dogs were still alive. Dogs are incredible at sensing energy and smelling chemical/hormonal changes that are imperceptible to humans. When I feel sadness, the hormone cortisol gets pumped through my body. I can’t smell it, but my dogs can. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so what they know is that their person, their main caretaker, their food source, is feeling stressed. And as a creature who depends completely on their person for their food, comfort, and companionship, the fact that I’m stressed makes them stressed, too. Stress is no good for anyone’s health, especially a dog who is old or already has cancer. So an added incentive for me to stay present and stay in joy for every moment that my dogs were alive was to also help keep their stress levels low and their joy levels high.

Even though I ended up losing all my dogs, I truly believe that this practice reduced all our stress and added length of time to all their lives. It certainly added to their quality of life, as well as to mine.

Goodbye Isn’t Goodbye

What if you’ve already lost a pet and you didn’t choose joy and presence in the moment—then what? How can you stop the hurting and open your heart again for more?

What gave me comfort is learning that goodbye isn’t goodbye.

I’m going to make a bold statement here: there is no such thing as death.

All matter contains energy, and energy cannot be destroyed—it can only be changed. Whether you believe in some form of heaven, universal source energy, the rainbow bridge, reincarnation, spirit guides, or even ghosts, it’s all the same basic idea. From ancient times to now, there has been a prevailing understanding that life does not end when our bodies stop functioning. The idea of an afterlife has become uncomfortable for modern US sensibilities, yet in other cultures families regularly honor, prepare food for, and spend time with the spirits of their deceased loved ones.

I was certainly one who gave no credence to ideas of an afterlife spent in spirit.

But then Duke died, and some strange things started happening that I couldn’t explain, but also couldn’t ignore. Two years later, I could write an entire book based on the signs, dreams, sensations and synchronicities my kids and I have received from our dogs.

(Do you want to hear more? Let me know in the comments.)

What I know from all of this is that our dogs are with us all the time. They aren’t in the physical bodies that we want them to be in, but when we open our hearts and minds to “seeing” them in their new energetic form, their energy can be with us, keeping us company and giving us guidance, all the time.

One hour after Archie died, Layla laid down in his bed and this rainbow fell over her back. A sign from Archie?

Believing that we will see our beloved animals again—whether it’s in heaven, at the rainbow bridge, through reincarnation, in dreams, or as spirit guides—brings comfort to many people. And if it’s not hurting anyone else, I don’t understand why anyone would try to take that comfort away from another person by insisting that heaven, universal source energy or a spiritual afterlife in any form isn’t real. If the idea appeals to you, or if you’ve experienced strange phenomena that you can’t explain any other way, then fully claim and honor that belief. If it makes you feel better to think that you might see your dog again in heaven, at the rainbow bridge, in messages from beyond, or even in a reincarnated puppy, then don’t let what anyone else thinks take that belief from you.

The more you can open your mind to receiving signs from your beloveds in spirit, the more you will receive.

The idea that my dogs’ spirits are always walking next to me, and that I may see them again reincarnated in this life or reunited in the afterlife, gives me comfort. It helps me keep going. It has made all their deaths seem less final. And it gives me the strength to keep opening my heart for more.

Get to Know Your Grief

Which brings us to Layla. I “accidentally” adopted Layla as a companion for Archie, not knowing that Archie was going to die just three days later. So here I was, grieving Archie, with yet another senior dog entering my life who wouldn’t have long to live.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I don’t think anyone would have blamed me if I had returned Layla to her foster after three days and just taken a break from dogs for a while. I did consider it. But I had a strong feeling that Archie wanted me to have Layla, that maybe she was even a gift from Archie. So instead of shutting down my heart and refusing to go through more grief, I leaned back into the practices and beliefs that had given me comfort with the others.

The pain from losing each dog doesn’t get any “less.” But it does become knowable, almost predictable, which makes it less scary to go through. I’ve come to know my own unique pattern for grief, allowing me to take better care of myself. I know when I’ll feel strong and when I’ll feel pulled under. I know there will be days when I’m convinced the sadness will never end. I also know there will be that one day when I laugh again, usually at something inappropriate and immature, and for a little too long.

On the day that I get the giggles, I know I’m coming out the other side of grief.


Knowing grief is a gift.

Feeling grief means you also felt the beautiful love that came before it.

Grief and love are emotions on opposite sides of the same spectrum—you can’t have one without the other. If I chose not to keep Layla because I was afraid to lose another dog, I wouldn’t get to feel all the love she has brought me.

I chose to keep Layla and to pour into her. I’m not holding back any love from her out of fear that my heart will get broken again.

My heart WILL get broken again, AND I will be okay.

Because I know that right up until the moment of her last breath, we’re going to fill that time with as much presence, joy and love as we can. And then, with tears in my eyes and another boxer-shaped hole in my heart, I will ride the waves of grief. And all the while, I will watch for beautiful, magical signs from Layla as she shows me how to “see” her again.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature

In memory of Duke, Tyler, Lily, Georgia and Archie. Thank you for giving me the beautiful gifts of your lives and your deaths.

Rest in Peace, Archie

Rest in Peace, Archie

Archie was not an easy dog to love, but those are the dogs that I love the deepest. Feeling loved, and feeling safe, transformed him.

If you’ve ever loved a difficult dog, you’ll identify with Archie’s story.

I want to show you inside his beautiful heart, but he was a complex dog and I find myself filling up his story with disclaimers instead.

Archie was a biter, but I think I’m more afraid of the judgmental opinions of humans than I ever was of Archie.

The world can say what it will about a dog like Archie, but I know this truth: getting to love him was a privilege that I would accept over and over, and helping him learn to trust humans again was one of the biggest rewards of my life.

Rest in peace, you complex little llama bear. You are so loved and so worth it.

Archie passed away on May 16, 2023. The soft-tissue sarcoma that had taken his front left leg eventually took his life.

I adopted Archie almost a year and a half before his death. He was an abandoned, 10-year-old Boxer who had his front leg amputated after his first night in the shelter.

I knew when I adopted Archie that he had soft tissue sarcoma, and I could see in the medical report from his amputation that they weren’t able to remove all the cancerous cells during surgery.

I had been watching for the sarcoma to grow back on the outside, but it grew back silently on the inside, filling his chest. On Archie’s last visit to the vet, the vet couldn’t find his heartbeat. That’s because the mass had grown so large, Archie’s heart had been pushed from the left side of his body over to the right.

He died at home the next day.

Archie’s Heart

Archie had a big, beautiful heart, but very few people ever saw that. Very few people ever even got to meet him.

From the outside, he came off as a very “unlovable” dog. He was old, he was angry, he was an amputee, he had cancer, and the biggest challenge of all—he was a biter. He would growl and bite at every human hand that came near him. On the day I adopted him, I wasn’t even able to touch him.

If the boxer rescue had been honest about how dangerous he was, I wouldn’t have brought him into my home.

But all they told me was that he was “grumpy,” and “Grumpy Pups” was literally the name of my first pet photography business, so he sounded perfect to me!

I wish I could tell you that I brought him home and he was so grateful and happy that he showered us in kisses and boxer butt wiggles for the rest of his life.

Not exactly.

He did give us kisses, and he was very happy in his new life, but getting there took a lot of time and patience and trust-building. Along the way, we got wounded. His bites hurt, but it was our feelings that got hurt the most.

(“We” refers to me and my adult kids. No children were harmed in the making of Archie. Disclaimer #1.)

There are lots of opinions about dogs who bite, and while he was alive I struggled with how to share his story. He was a complex dog, it was a complex situation, and I’m not trying to get into the argument about dogs who bite and whether it’s safe to let them live or not.

All I want to do is tell you Archie’s story, and tell you that by the time he left this earth, he was transformed. He was a lover. He was able to be introduced to my entire extended family, even the toddlers and newborns.

We were careful, we respected his boundaries, and we made him feel safe again.

Archie was not a “bad” dog, he was a dog who had been treated badly. Earning the love and trust of a dog like that was one of the biggest rewards of my life.

Archie’s World

Archie was remarkably chill about everything except humans. Fireworks, vacuums, and thunderstorms were mostly ignored, but humans had taught him they couldn’t be trusted.

He had one rule, and he was very clear and consistent about it: don’t touch him unless he gave you the green light. (The green light was when he approached you or even leaned on you.)

It wasn’t hard to get the green light—you just needed to give him a minute and let him do the approaching. The green light wasn’t an all-access pass to any part of his body, though. His amputation scar was off limits to everyone, green light or not, for a long time. (Understandable, as it was still quite raw when I adopted him.) Petting might be okay, but if you wanted to kiss him or hug him, you’d need to earn another green light for that. Moving his body or touching him while he was in a dog bed was going to need another green light, and you’d have to work a lot harder for that one.

At no point was he ever mean or unpredictable or out of control. He simply had learned that human hands hurt him, and he did the one thing that he knew would keep unwanted hands away from him.

He didn’t have the same hesitation with dogs. He loved his sisters, Georgia and Lily, and cuddled up to them from the first moment they met. Lily stepped and layed on him, Georgia smooshed him, and he never once told them to back off.

Archie’s world was small, by necessity. As an amputee, he couldn’t go on long walks or hike to waterfalls, so he mostly never left my property. I couldn’t risk having him around people he didn’t know, so only family and a few good friends ever met him. Luckily, he loved routine and the simple things in life like a cozy dog bed in front of the fireplace.

He also loved his “car rides to nowhere.” He’d beg for a car ride every day, but it was never about the destination. There were very few places where he could actually get out of the car, so I’d drive him around for a little bit and then go back home. He’d hook his head over the back seat and watch out the little side window. Always the same seat, always the same window. Sameness was a comfort for Archie, and if you wanted to start something new with him, you better be prepared to go slow and give it some time.

Taking care of a dog like Archie was a challenge when you had to do things like lift him in and out of the car, cut his nails, or give him a bath. You had to show him in every single moment that you could be trusted. My kids and I learned so much from him, because he made us pay attention to his body language and communication more than any dog before him.

When you earned the green light, though, there was no sweeter reward. Just like any other dog, he loved his people, he enjoyed being pet, and he could cuddle with the best of them. I adored earning his trust and helping him learn to trust humans again. He never stopped trying to overcome his fear, so I never stopped trying, either. There were a lot of moments when he would shake in fear, but he never ran away, he never shut down, he never stopped giving people a chance. He would look you straight in the eyes and it’s almost as if he was asking you to help him stop the fear. He was a sweet dog with a big heart and he didn’t deserve whatever treatment led him to being abandoned, with a leg full of cancer, and a desperate desire to protect himself from humans.

When Archie Met Layla

After Lily and Georgia died, Archie seemed to lose his spark. He missed his sisters.

The kids came to say their goodbyes, and we came very close to losing him. He started having trouble using his back legs, and his one front leg wasn’t enough to get him around. I had to carry him in and out of the house—and if you’ve read this far, you know that picking Archie up and carrying him around multiple times a day was a massive challenge for everyone involved.

I don’t know how, but he pulled through. I carried him for several days, and then one day I put him on the ground and he ran off through the yard, smile on his face. Over the next two months he continued to perk up and get better.

So I got him a new sister! Meet Layla. I thought Layla would be a good companion for him, and they hit it off right away. He and Layla had three great days together.

And then the cancer that I didn’t know was growing inside his body took over.

Some people say that Archie held on until I could get Layla, so that I wouldn’t be alone after so much loss. Some say that Archie and Layla look like siblings (and they do come from the same area, and the same situations), and maybe he gave his “spot” to his sister, who also needed rescuing. I don’t know, but I do know that he was incredibly strong to hold on as long as he did, hiding the cancer and how he was feeling. It doesn’t surprise me, because Archie showed me every day how brave and strong he was, from navigating this wild land on three legs to learning to trust people again.

I miss my brave little llama bear more than most people will ever understand, because I got to see all the beautiful and vulnerable parts of him. He challenged me more than any dog I’ve ever loved, but the payoff was greater, too.

Rest in peace, Archie.

Run free…four legs, no fear, forever in my heart.

Rest in Peace, Georgia

Rest in Peace, Georgia

Georgia passed away exactly two months to the day after Lily. She was the end of an era of four dogs who changed my life for the better, shifted my entire career path and passions, and made me the person I am today.

jennifer waters hugging boxer dog

It’s taken me seven months to be able to write this, and that’s because losing Georgia left such a huge hole.

There’s so much I could tell you about her.

She gave great hugs.

She did incredible things for the dogs we adopted after her.

She made impressive mountains out of dog beds and blankets.

But there’s a little something extra about Georgia that I miss the most: her pure joy for life.

Georgia came to us as a discarded breeding dog. After about three years of pumping out puppies in a cage for someone’s profit, she was tossed to the street and ended up in a shelter.

For a discarded dog, she sure left a big impact.

Many of you know and love Georgia because of how she became Duke’s seeing eye dog when he went blind

She also mothered Archie when he first arrived, still not healed from his amputation and snapping and growling at every human hand that came near him. Georgia wasn’t scared of him. She cuddled right up next to him within minutes, and became a constant comfort in his first months here. Every night they would go to sleep in separate beds, but many mornings I would find Georgia laying on the floor next to Archie’s bed instead of on her own.

She always had a motherly instinct, which is why her nickname over the years changed from Monkey (she made monkey noises when she got excited) to Mama.

The thing about Georgia is that, like many rescued animals, she knew hard times. She was scarred by them. But she had this particular gratitude for her second life that was absolutely joyous and infectious. She was so happy about her new life that you couldn’t help but feel her happiness, too.

She’d prance and dance and wiggle around and you couldn’t help but laugh and catch a little bit of her joy when she was around. (You also couldn’t help but accidentally stick a finger in her nose or eyes because petting Georgia during a happy dance was such a moving target.)

Because of her former life, Georgia had extreme anxiety.

She was a large part of why I wanted to move out of the city and into nature. The busyness of a suburban neighborhood tortured her. She would flip like a switch from the happiest little creature on the planet to uncontrollable barking and high alert. You could actually see the moment that something in her brain would flip, and at that point, there was no stopping her. No amount of training, diversions, avoidance, calming tactics, yelling or even shameless begging ever stopped the fear and barking.

The only thing that finally helped her anxiety was moving to the woods of Upper Michigan. When we moved here, she finally found quiet. She stopped barking. She started to enjoy the outdoors. She even moved slower—not from old age, but from a calm confidence that I had never seen in her before.

It’s a simple memory, but I’ll always remember her last day here. Georgia had gone from a dog who dreaded being outside to a dog who loved to quietly wander the woods and property on her own. She was always finding little “treats” that the eagles had dropped in the yard (ie, fish heads and seagull wings and small animal bones). On this day she was taking herself for a little walk through the woods, and instead of joining her I watched her from a distance, enjoying seeing her in peace. She found a dry corn cob in the woods, and I saw her pick it up and run it back home to me—smile on her face, wiggle in her butt. It was such a simple moment, but at the same time, not. She was 13 years old then, and I’d had her for 10 years. Ten years of overcoming anxiety that tested all of us, but she had finally arrived to this moment where she could wander in the woods by herself, relaxed and confident and happily hunting little treasures. I love that she experienced that.

Just hours later, one side of her face became swollen. She had developed a very aggressive cancer in the two months since Lily died, and that’s how fast it was moving. She was very quiet and still—no wiggling whatsoever. With one look in her eyes, I knew why, and I knew it was time.

The joy was gone.

Rest in peace, Georgia. Always on my mind (and in my heart).

boxer dog in the woods
Rest in Peace, Lily

Rest in Peace, Lily

Our beautiful, happy girl lived full out until the last 60 seconds of her life, and then she passed away suddenly in my arms.

jennifer waters the happy dog mom smiles at boxer dog

The last 60 seconds of Lily’s life were the only warning I got that something was wrong.

She walked down the hall toward me, acting like she might be sick to her stomach. I guided her to the kitchen, wrapped my arms around her and asked her if she was okay, and then laid her down gently as I felt her legs give out.

Three more big breaths and she was gone.

I know there’s a blessing in saying she lived a good life right up until the very last minute, and then left quickly without suffering. It also would have been nice to have had some warning.

There is no easy way to lose a dog.

If I could play you a slideshow of the 11 years before yesterday, you’d see a stream of pure happiness, play and affection. Lily had a remarkably good life, one that wasn’t marred by the hardships and traumas that the other dogs we’ve brought into our family have experienced. She will be remembered in so many stories, and all of them will end in laughter. She was always ready to play, and she never passed up an adventure. But she was just as eager to settle down for a good cuddle, too.

Many of Lily’s stories also end with, “She was so naughty!” But you have to understand that her particular style of naughtiness wasn’t a source of frustration—it was something to be admired. She came into our world like a 5-pound whirlwind, deviously scheming up some of the most complicated, expensive acts of destruction I’ve ever seen in a dog. I am perversely proud that my baby girl chewed off every cement board corner of our house, stripped young trees of their bark and once ripped out all the wiring on the underground sprinkling system. I don’t remember her bothering with normal activities like chewing shoes or pillows—that was too mundane for her style. She preferred things like rolling jack-o-lanterns down the driveway—just to watch them get crushed by cars.

She also was sweet, and thankfully mellowed out later in life. She loved two things the most: her big brother Tyler, and my son, Aidan. Lily would hardcore ditch anyone and anything to spend time with her “boyfriend” Aidan. The day she died, I had told her, “You get to see Aidan one week from today!” He was away at college and hadn’t seen her since August. Going home for Thanksgiving will be very bittersweet now.

I am thankful that I can look back at the last weeks and not spot any signs that I missed. I wouldn’t want to live with the idea that I could have done something to prevent this. I am thankful that we braved the snow and cold to take the walks she loved the last days of her life. I am grateful that I made the effort to cut trails through the property because going on our daily “adventures” was one of her favorite things. I am grateful that I tucked her in every night, telling her I loved her and that she was the best baby girl. I am grateful she didn’t suffer. And I’m so thankful that she was our princess for almost 12 years, although no amount of time would have been long enough.

Every death has taught me something. Duke and Tyler taught me how to live those last days in presence and joy, saving the grief for after they’re gone. Lily is pushing that lesson further. Even when you don’t know that your dog is dying, live in presence and joy. Take the walks. Give out the treats. Say “I love you” every night as you tuck them in. We hear it over and over—live every moment like it could be your last. It’s an idea that is easy to dismiss when you always think you have more time. Lily’s gift is to show us that our next breath isn’t a given. Choose presence and joy today, like it’s the last day you may ever have.

Go get ‘em, Baby Girl. I know you’re pestering Tyler so hard right now, but I also know his playful little sister was one of the great joys of his life. Georgia is grieving, missing her constant outdoor adventure partner. And Archie…you might be interested to know that he guarded your body after you were gone.

You will be so missed, Lily, it’s hard to even comprehend right now in the hours after your sudden death. I’m so glad you didn’t suffer, and we’ll use that as a reminder not to suffer over your loss. I know we didn’t get to say goodbye, but I also know we never really have to say goodbye. You’re always in our hearts and we’ll be watching for you in our dreams, beautiful baby girl.  

Rest In Peace
2/8/11 – 11/16/22

Rest In Peace, Tyler

Rest In Peace, Tyler

On November 6, 2021, after almost 14 years of love and adventures, Tyler went to join Duke in spirit.

A Celebration of Life for the Dog Who Changed My Life

After almost 14 years of life and love, Tyler has gone to join Duke in spirit. The timing was perfect. We had beautiful moments until the very end, and then it was time. He didn’t suffer, but he also had no time left to spare.

senior dog boxer tyler

The last photo I took of Tyler, the day before we said goodbye.

There was a dark time in my life when I honestly didn’t think I could survive losing Tyler. He and I had a bond like no other. So it is a bit of a surprise that my overwhelming feeling in the days since his death has been one of gratitude for his life, rather than grief over his death. I miss him deeply and am grieving, of course, but I’m also aware that I couldn’t have asked for a moment or a memory more than he had already given me.

happy boxer dog in red flowers

The last photo I took of Tyler before we moved from the house where he lived for 13 years.

Tyler changed my life. It’s hard to describe his complexity and presence in words. If you met him, you knew: he wasn’t like other dogs. He was stubborn and demanding, but he also had a huge heart and an old-soul wisdom. He showed me a deeper, wiser, more emotional side of animals that I’d never seen before, and it opened up a passion and purpose in me. Tyler was my inspiration to leave corporate and become a pet photographer. A decade later, he continued to inspire me to go beyond pretty pictures and start advocating for greater dog health, happiness and longevity.

boxer dog in lake michigan

He was a model for what is possible when we see the inherent wisdom, divinity and unconditional love in dogs, and learn to give back to them as much as they give to us. He healed me, and he pushed me to learn how I could heal him in return. The end result is that we had almost 14 years of beautiful moments together. To have a Boxer reach almost 14 years is no small feat. I promised him I would keep showing others how they can do the same for their own dogs.

boxer dog in fall grass field

Tyler loved our new life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I’m so grateful he got to experience it. Apparently, he had waited his whole life to be a “farm” dog, and he finally got to live his dream. He loved “checking the perimeter” with me, walking the borders of our property to make sure everything was in place. He loved doing “chores” with me, jogging alongside me as I did yard work. He loved watching sunsets on the deck with me, staying by my side for as long as I chose to stay and watch the sky. He played in Lake Superior, waterfalls, the mouth of the Huron River, forests, lighthouses, and ate dinner at the Mackinac Bridge and just about every roadside park between L’Anse and St. Ignace. One week after he was given a week to live, he was standing in the wild waves of Point Abbaye, grabbing mouthfuls of the Lake Superior water he loved so much. My boy wasn’t one to rest. (Fun fact: Tyler didn’t let me sleep in or take a whole nap for a single day of his life!) He was my constant companion, protector and co-adventurer until the very end.

boxer dog in lake superior point abbaye upper peninsula michigan
senior boxer dog watching sunset from deck lake superior keweenaw bay upper peninsula michigan
boxer dogs eating dinner point abbaye lake superior upper peninsula michigan
happy senior boxer dog
happy senior boxer dog fall field

The day before Tyler died, I had a dream that Duke was a deer and he was waiting at the fence line for Tyler. The day after Tyler died, two deer ran full speed into traffic at a busy intersection, darted right in front of my car, and leapt off into the field on the other side. (At exactly 11:11am. If you know, you know.)

It was an unmistakable sign. Duke found Tyler, and my boys are running through new adventures of their own now. And obviously causing all sorts of trouble, as all good Boxers would

Run free in love and joy, my heart dog.

Thank you for all you gave us. 

I love you more than words will ever be able to say.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature


How Is Georgia?

How Is Georgia?

Understanding How Dogs Grieve and How to Help Them Through It

“How is Georgia?” Bless your kind hearts, I’ve been asked that a lot since Duke’s last day.

My answer is a slightly unsatisfying…I think she’s fine, maybe?

The reason I can’t give a definite answer is because it’s more complicated than whether or not she is grieving Duke.

Dogs absolutely feel grief, and I have no doubt that she misses her constant companion for the last year and a half.

From the first day Duke arrived, Georgia was so attentive to his every move, helping him navigate when he needed it and simply being in close proximity when he didn’t. It was a fact that I couldn’t bend down to pet Duke without Georgia zooming in alongside him to join in. I would laugh and call it POGO…Pet One Get One free.

Georgia had a bond with Duke that is unlike any other relationship I’ve seen her have. It would be hard to comprehend if she didn’t miss him.

But is she grieving?

Signs of Grief in Dogs

These are the signs of grief in dogs that I’ve been watching out for:

  • sleeping more (or less) than normal
  • eating less
  • having accidents in the house
  • withdrawing from people and other pets, or becoming more clingy
  • showing more aggressive or destructive behaviors
  • making more noises (like whimpering, whining, barking or howling)
  • separation anxiety
  • unexplained personality changes

Overall, Georgia seems happy enough. Nothing seems “off” about her personality. She is eating, exercising and playing with her new favorite toy, the stuffed avocado I gave her to cuddle when she was done saying goodbye to Duke. She also has been cuddling a lot with Lily, which is what they used to do before Duke came. It’s amazing how my camera photos used to be filled with pictures of Lily and Georgia together, then Duke and Georgia together, and now back to Lily and Georgia.

She has shown some signs of grief, though.

She slept in Duke’s bed the first night he was gone. She occasionally sits in front of me, ears back a little, and just stares into my eyes, almost seeming to plead for something I can’t give her.

She also has been sleeping a lot.

But they ALL are sleeping a lot. And that’s where the question of grief gets complicated.

The extra sleeping could absolutely be a sign of grief, or it could be them settling into the normal patterns they would have had if Duke wasn’t around to wake them up every two hours.

Duke had a fairly busy schedule for an old blind dog. His world was dark, so his stimulation came from getting up and walking around. We had a routine where he would wake up about every two hours, and I would escort him around wherever he wanted to go, usually ending up outside and then helping him back inside. The other dogs would always come along, of course, because where mom goes, everyone goes.

But the other dogs didn’t actually need to go outside every two hours. They just went because they didn’t want to be left behind.

So, are they sleeping more because they miss Duke and feel the heart-heaviness in their people?

Or are they sleeping more because Duke isn’t here to wake everyone up every two hours and give them a reason to go outside?

If in the next couple weeks they start to get more active, I think we could say it was grief. If they don’t, then we can say they’re just settling into the routines they would have had if Duke didn’t keep interrupting their naps!

How to Help a Grieving Dog

Either way, losing a family member is a big adjustment, and I’ve been doing several things to support them through it.

All the dogs are getting extra attention. That is one of the best things you can do for a surviving or grieving dog. Attention doesn’t have to be long, drawn out cuddle sessions if you don’t have time for it. It can be as simple as talking to your dogs while you’re doing other things, meeting their eye contact when you find them looking at you, or maybe an extra walk or extra time outside together. One of Georgia’s absolute favorite things is when I sing songs to her with her name in it, such as Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles. She wiggles her tail and butt every time I get to her name, and luckily she’s not much of a voice critic.

Another thing I’m doing to support my dogs is keeping them on their regular schedule. There is enough change in their life right now that I don’t want them to have to navigate unexpected schedule shifts, too. Keeping them on the same feeding, walking and bedtime schedule they had before Duke left gives them the comfort of knowing what to expect out of each day.

Letting them say goodbye to Duke after he left his body was possibly the most important part of their grieving process. Georgia hasn’t had to look for Duke (a common occurrence when a dog dies away from home) because she was right there with him. I was so fortunate to have Heaven at Home Pet Hospice minister the euthanasia at our home, on blankets in the sunshine and grass in our own yard. Each dog took turns smelling Duke after he took his last breath, and then the vet pointed out what happened next: each one of them turned their back to Duke, including Georgia.

I don’t know what this means, but they stood like a wall around him, heads pointed out away from him, until a silent understanding passed through them and they all walked away. Tyler and Lily seemed to go back to their regularly scheduled business, while Georgia came back and spent quite a bit more time with Duke. She stayed very close to him as the vet gently moved his body onto a stretcher, and as my boys carried the stretcher to the car. She spent more time sniffing him and reaching her face close to his once he was in the back of the car, and Dr. Amy Hoss was gracious enough to give her all the time she needed. I believe this understanding of exactly what happened to Duke and where he went is the main reason they seem to be navigating this change so well.

Finally, I’m managing my own grief around them. I am not crying into their fur when I’m reminded of Duke, such as those moments when I’ve grabbed four leashes to walk three dogs, given Duke’s name to the vet when I meant to make an appointment for Tyler, or habitually reached to pick up a fourth food bowl that is no longer there. Those moments will bring you to your knees, but I prefer to handle them on my own. Not that my dogs wouldn’t gladly cuddle up for a cry if I needed them to, but I want to be considerate of the fact that their hearts might be hurting, too.

In time, I know that my grief, as well as theirs, will fade.

I love this beautiful message sent to me by life coach Lisa Carpenter last week:

“Just keep surrendering to the waves as they roll in, knowing they’ll roll back out and feel more gentle in time.”

Additional Resources

If you or someone you know would like extra support while navigating the grief of pet loss, please check out these resources.

Joy Session Network

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (book, affiliate link)

Heaven at Home’s Memorial Page 

Local Pet Loss Grief Support Groups

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature


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