My dog died

As veterinary professionals, the loss of our own pets offers a deeper understanding of grief—and a chance for compassionate connection with clients.

By Jenn Galvin

The day I’m writing this is my dog’s birthday. Well, it would have been if she were alive. My first dog, a misbehaved beagle named Bumbee, was my heart dog. She would have been 18 this year had she not died in June of 2020.  

After she passed away, I changed. It was excruciating and I became a different person. Maybe that’s dramatic, but it feels true. In 2020, many of us suffered and struggled more than we ever have. Between dealing with a new and deadly virus, the stress of employment in veterinary medicine during a pandemic, and navigating a strange and new world, I don’t know why more of us didn’t have nervous breakdowns.  

Hoggle, Pickles, and Pants 

A few months after Bumbee died, I took home a stray dumpster kitten that a client had brought in that she couldn’t keep. I figured the antics, entertainment, and love a rescue kitten would bring would help my broken heart heal a little.  

I named him Hoggle and did everything you’re supposed to do. I tested him for parasites, FeLV, FIV, and heartworm—all negative. I vaccinated him. I took him home. I loved him. Everything was great until it wasn’t.  

He had an eye ulcer that wouldn’t heal. He developed a respiratory infection and wasn’t responding right to treatment. To make an entirely too long and frustrating story short, we eventually figured out he, in fact, did have feline leukemia that wasn’t testing positive on the in-house test methods. We discovered he spread it to my 14-year-old cat, Pickles, but not my eight-year-old cat, Pants.  

The loss I experienced over the next year was excruciating. I lost Bumbee in June of 2020 and had three cats at that time.  Pants died of an undiagnosed respiratory complication in May of 2021. Pickles died of feline leukemia in October of 2021. Hoggle died of feline leukemia in February of 2022.  

Lessons from loss  

You have all experienced loss. Everyone in veterinary medicine that I know has lost a cherished pet. So why do I share this story? Because I want to remind you that our hardest times unite us in our most human aspects—vulnerability and the quest for meaning in the face of sorrow. This loss was a turning point for me, not only in my personal life but also in how I approach my profession. 

Empathy and patience  

The first lesson I took from my loss: Be more empathetic and have more patience for people who are suffering.  

Veterinary medicine is not just about treating animals; it’s about caring for the people who love them. After experiencing my loss, I found myself more attuned to the emotional states of pet owners navigating similar situations.  

It’s allowed me to better support clients through their pets’ illnesses and the hard decisions that sometimes follow. I want each owner to feel heard and supported, much like I needed during my own difficult time. 


Lesson number two: We gain resilience through healing. The journey through grief is not linear, and healing takes time and often involves setbacks. We can help pet owners recognize that feeling angry, overwhelmed, or sad doesn’t mean they aren’t coping—it means they are human.  

The cremation company we use offers 24/7 grief counseling for our clients which helps give them strategies to manage grief, reminding them that resilience doesn’t imply a lack of emotion but rather the capacity to continue loving and remembering even in the face of loss. 


The final lesson I took away: Hope is crucial. I now better understand hope’s role and positive memories’ power. In veterinary practice, this translates into how we help clients prepare for and cherish the final moments with their pets. We encourage owners to think about how they can create meaningful, joyous experiences even as they face the end together. Whether it’s a special meal, a gentle day in the park, or extra love and attention, these times are precious. They help build a reservoir of happy memories that can offer comfort long after a pet has passed. 

Being the client 

It’s hard to be the client. It’s hard to experience the loss we are used to helping our clients through, but it reminds me what it’s like to be on the other side of the exam table. These lessons are integral to the care we provide and the support we offer pet owners during their most trying times.  

I’m still healing from my loss, but I feel better equipped to guide others through theirs with greater compassion and understanding of what it’s like to be human. 


Cover photo credit: ©  Apilart E+ via Getty Images Plus 

 Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



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