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Erika Girardi Mourns Death of Her 12-Year-Old Dog Tiago: 'The Best Friend a Girl Could Have' (Exclusive)

is mourning the loss of her Dutch shepherd Tiago, who died earlier this month at the age of 12.

The star opened up to PEOPLE exclusively about the death in an interview on Monday, remembering her black pooch as "the best friend a girl could have."

"I had to euthanize Tiago two weeks ago. I had to put my dog to sleep," says Girardi, 52. "It's just been really sad for me, and just it's been tough."

"The house is quiet," she adds. "My boy's gone. So... yeah... I've been really grieving. And I didn't do one of those Instagram announcements, but it just feels right to share it."

Tiago came into Girardi's life as an adult, the reality star purchasing her four-legged friend from Mike Ritland, a former U.

S. Navy SEAL who trains personal protection K9s through his company, . She acquired Tiago after her other German shepherd, Andy, died of cancer.

"Tiago lived a really long time for a shepherd," says Girardi. "He had an amazing life."

viewers will surely remember Tiago, who often appeared alongside Girardi on the Bravo reality series, of which she's been a cast member for eight seasons. "The one really good thing about the show is that he will live on forever," she tells PEOPLE. "That brings me enormous comfort."

The actress and singer — who has had under her on-stage moniker, Erika Janye — has often featured Tiago on her Instagram account, calling him sweet names like "My guy" and "My distinguished gentleman.


He also remained by her side amid her divorce from her estranged husband, , who has been . Tiago relocated with Erika to a new house, bringing her comfort amid the legal woes and public scrutiny that followed the indictment.

"He always has my back," Erika wrote of her canine on Instagram.

As viewers will see on Wednesday's upcoming premiere of 's 13th season, most of those stresses are in the rear-view mirror for Erika.

She's dove into work, launching called , which runs select weekends at the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay through Dec. 16.

"It's been amazing," she tells PEOPLE of the residency.

"I love it and am so grateful for the experience, I really am. It's been a rebirth in a lot of ways and a chance to introduce  as I really launch into this next chapter."

That doesn't mean critics haven't been trying to pull her backward. "The biggest challenge has been compartmentalizing the legal battles, the personal attacks — just tuning out all the noise," Erika says. "But this happens sometimes in life, where you have this great opportunity that's supposed to be so joyous, and then you have this other thing that just steals the joy if you let it. You have to stay strong and focus on the good, but let's be honest: everybody has a threshold, and it bleeds over sometimes.

So it's hard."

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"I think I've just really learned to accept that certain things are built into the game of life or game of life," she notes. "These things are happening. If you can accept them, then you can prepare and go forward. For me, I just did not want to be defined by a divorce and allegations. I fought very hard to be myself, and still have something for myself, and to pick up and go forward. And that's what I'll always do."

Season 13 of premieres Wednesday (8 p.m. ET) on Bravo.

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