Managing the Loss of a Homestead Dog

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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The family Labrador in his older age, who is mentioned in the beginning of this article, shown enjoying a day of sunshine during his time. (Photo: Fala Burnette, Wolf Branch Homestead)

In 2020, my in-laws put to rest a yellow Labrador who was an essential part of everyone’s lives after a long illness. A simple stray, given a forever home already as an aged adult dog, with somewhere around 10 long years left to give. He was special enough that even I myself will remember him as the best dog I have ever known, my husband and I spending a great deal of time with his four-legged friend. Countless times he was by our side for some of the most fun memories.

I can never forget having to hold him while my husband practiced with his recurve bow, the lab doing his best to try and be helpful by fetching arrows after they were shot. There were times he would stop in the woods and look at us, marking out some long-lost arrow half-buried in the dirt. He was a great hunting partner as well, guiding me for my very first squirrel hunt and licking my face because he was equally as proud as I was. Just when you think the squirrels had hopped trees, he would be completely still under the same tree because he knew they were hiding in some crevice. He was always right. We’ve had a few sighs and laughs from a tree stand as well because he always knew we were out there somehow. He would walk underneath us and look straight up at us — he was a smart old fella.

Managing Loss of a Homestead Dog

Months after the Labrador’s passing, I lost my elderly adopted dog suddenly, and experienced this sadness myself. She was adopted from the animal shelter at only a year old, returned due to behavioral issues and facing the end of her stay because she was dog aggressive and barked defensively at those who toured the kennels. In an ironic twist of fate, we just so happened to have her twin brother, who was adopted months prior, and the rest is history. Her quirky behavior and goofy nature cemented her into the memories of my heart, and a happy reunion with her brother was never again broken.

She was never fond of going for a swim in the creek, but well-minded at bath time. She really enjoyed helping the Australian Cattle Dog hunt down mice, and always excited to get a catch as the three of us teamed up. She became a best friend to the dog owned by my grandfather-in-law, and they would bounce around together like silly youngsters every time they met. She enjoyed many days in the sun relaxing with her twin, and though he misses her, I walk him to her grave site every so often to pay respects to the bouncy sister he had many long years with.

These memories are my own in regard to the dogs I’ve known and loved, but my situation is not unique. I’m sure the reader can recall a dog who has impacted their live fondly- whether that be a bird dog who was sharp as a tack, a show pup that you earned awards with, or simply a household companion that brought you friendship and joy. I personally think that it is okay to feel a twinge of sadness when you’ve lost a pet you’re close to, and even marking their grave and leaving some flowers for them seems to also help ease the heart, even if it is not a dog but instead a horse, cat, pig, cow, chicken, duck, lizard, or any other creature. These feelings make us human, and it is important to remember that we are able to carry on and channel our feelings into something positive afterwards.

Ways to Turn Grief into Positive Action

Maybe you’ve recently lost a beloved elderly dog and aren’t ready to adopt again. Consider becoming a foster for your local animal shelter, being the important in-between that helps an animal through a period before becoming adoptable. Perhaps you are young, and the family cat you have grown with has passed. Talk with your parents about volunteering together at a humane society and help clean for kitties in need and socialize them, or even gather some of the items on their wish list (such as kitten food and litter) with your family and drop it off. Even those who have lost a barnyard pal may be able to find a farm rescue nearby to help out with.

Remember that while you may mourn the loss of a beloved pet, reflecting on memories of them and the impact they had on your life can be a special part of the healing process. I hope that by opening up and sharing my reflections on two special dogs in my life and providing ideas for positively channeling your love for animals afterwards, you may find comfort if you’re faced with a tough moment like this. Do you have a fond memory of a particular animal that’s crossed your path, and if so, what is it? I hope you’ll think about that with a smile and remember them lovingly today.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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