When mom loses her best friend…softening the blow of the loss of a family dog

Our family took a big blow this past week. We lost our eldest, and most beloved of our family pets thus far. Our big boy Boris passed away unexpectedly in our back yard. One minute begging for a walk, the next we found him collapsed in the back yard, our toddler standing over him. No warning, no known health issues. Not witnessing the collapse, but knowing it had just been a couple of minutes at most, we did our best to perform CPR, but knew he was gone. My son likely witnessed the collapse, and was present during the CPR. He watched us wrap him in a quilt, and we all had to say our farewell’s. The whole time mom and dad having tears streaming down our faces.

Tragic loss for our family. This big guy, a newfie, was with us during many of our roughest days, and some of our happiest days. Always sneaking in a cuddle on the couch when he could. If we needed a little extra love his big head was always there, and almost always on our lap. Not only leaving us behind, but his little newfie sister as well, who always followed at his side.

Now, a week later, I can reflect on how we handled the incident. I reflected on the event, thinking if there was anything we could have handled a bit better and the things we handled well. In hopes of helping families that find themselves in the unfortunate situation of their furry family member passing, and worse a young child witnessing the event, I hope to pass on what I have learned to help soften the blow.

A few tips to help your family through the grieving process:

  • Have a general idea how as a family you want to handle the explanation of death in advance. Whether your explanation is religion based, science based, a heaven, or the “Circle of Life” as Disney’s “The Lion King” describes it. Having at least a general idea in advance will help parents when those tough questions are asked in a moment of stress.
  • Your explanation of the loss of life should be age appropriate. Use terms your child can understand, and take care not to use explanations that can be used in a different context. An example of this is “sleeping”. My son asked if Boris was “sleeping” in the moments following us performing CPR. Of course amongst performing CPR I replied “yes”. The following morning my son asked where daddy was. I told him daddy’s still sleeping. My son replied “daddy gone?”. You can see the problem, obviously we don’t want our toddler to associate sleeping with being “gone”.
  • Share your feelings, don’t hide them. We explained to our son that mommy and daddy are sad, and we miss Boris, but Boris is not sad and he has no owies. I felt it’s important for my son to know that it is okay to be sad, and to miss Boris. At the same time taking care to ensure my son felt like Boris was no longer hurt, or suffering.
  • Create a memorial. We created one in our yard with a picture, log, and flowers. Since our loss was sudden and unexpected, we did not get to say goodbye. This allowed us to visit and share our thoughts with each other. I laid flowers for him every day for a week, allowing my son to participate as well.
  • There are many options for laying your pet to rest including burial, cremation, and even donating to science. In the past we have donated our Sonny Dog to a University Vet. We thought he may be of help to another dog someday. With Boris we chose cremation, with a paw print and lock of hair. They did a very good job of respecting our pet, and at a reasonable cost.
  • Keep a photo album. I like to keep a photo album of each pet for remembrance. I like to leave a little space to tuck away a little memento of our pet inside of the album, such as a collar or tags.

**The above is based on my personal experience as a life long pet owner, and a prior pediatric nurse. Every family must decide what works best for them.

Unfortunately CPR was unsuccessful in our situation, however if you’re a pet owner I think minimally knowing the basics may someday save your furry loved one.

Quick Summary of Canine and Feline CPR:

  • Quick check of surroundings and your pet. Do you see anything in the environment or directly causing trauma to your pet. Look for any obvious reversible problems. 
  • Check for signs of respiration. Look listen and feel for respirations, put your face or hand close to the dogs mouth/nose and listen for respirations as you look at the chest to see if is rising and falling. Open the mouth if possible to look for debris that could be blocking the airway ex: sticks, bones, food etc. If obstruction present, remove it.
  • Check for a pulse. The easiest is to put your ear to the chest to listen and feel for heart beat. Best to find the femoral pulse on inner thigh.
  • If no pulse, and not breathing perform CPR. Place animal on his right side, left side of the chest facing up. Start compressions. 30 compressions to 2 breaths, total of 100-120 compression per minute.
  • Continue CPR until you see signs of life. Outcomes are poor if no signs of life after 10 minutes to a max of 20 minutes. 
  • If the dog has a pulse or heart sounds, but not breathing, may continue with rescue breaths at a rate of ten breaths per minute. 

**It is harmful to perform CPR on any healthy animal or person. Only perform CPR in the case of an emergency when there are no signs of a pulse and/or respirations, and no signs of life. 

CPR references, and a more in-depth explanation on canine/feline CPR. Including recommendations for specific sizes. 


In loving memory of our Boris 9/2/2011- 9/7/2019.

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