Coping with the Death of a Pet

One unfortunate fact about pet ownership is that we outlive our pets. It’s not something we like to think about. The enjoyment and companionship they provide makes it easy for us to forget their lives are much shorter than ours.

The loss of a pet can be a frightening and bewildering experience for children and adults. Generally, people do not understand the deep bond that can develop between humans and animals, or the traumatic effect the death of a companion animal can have. Quite often, statements like “Losing my dog is like losing a member of my family”, are met with perplexed silence from the people who surround us. You probably won’t receive any cards or thoughtful condolences when a pet dies, and even the most well-meaning may likely dismiss the event with comments such as: “It was only a dog”, or “That’s too bad, but you can always get another one.”

Those of us who have owned pets know they are not “just a dog or cat”. They can be our best friends. When we lose a pet, we lose a little bit of ourselves even though the memory of them will always be a part of us.

Of course, you can accept another pet into your life and there are plenty who desperately need good homes in animal shelters. However, it is not wise to rush into getting a new pet immediately after the death of your beloved friend. No animal can ever replace the one you’ve lost and it is unfair to expect that from a new pet. Often, this can lead to comparison problems such as: “Rover never messed in the house! What’s wrong with you?” Acquiring another animal too soon may not allow you enough time to mourn which is an integral part of the healing process.

Those who have studied grief and growing past it have made the following suggestions to help you through the experience.

TALK ABOUT IT. Finding support from understanding people is extremely important for those who have lost a pet. Talk about your grief and share your feelings with someone who cares. Although dealing with the experience is a journey you must travel alone, often others can help us to sort out our confusion and provide the encouragement we need.

ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL. Tears, of course, are very often the best therapy. Weeping is a very natural way to ease anguish and release pain. Laughter too, at times, can help to relieve some of our suppressed emotions.

WRITE ABOUT IT. In addition to talking about our grief , writing down our thoughts and feelings will help us to clarify them. Quite often children who are having difficulty verbalizing the sadness they are experiencing may be able to better express their feelings of loss through a picture or story about their pet.

REACH OUT TO OTHERS. Make a contribution to an animal protection organization or local animal shelter in the memory of your pet. What better way to remember an old friend, than by helping other pets? This is also a thoughtful gesture to make on behalf of someone you know who loses a companion animal.

*WHEN YOU’RE READY, OPEN YOUR HEART AND HOME AGAIN. Gradually, anguish will give way to pleasant memories of your animal friend. If you are sensitive to your own progress, you will know when you are capable of loving and caring for a new animal which is special in his/her own right. The animal will be different, but the feelings will be familiar.

If you know someone who has lost a pet, words of wisdom to the bereaved are not required nor are they very helpful. Acknowledging their loss by reaching out with a card, a phone call or visit will help to meet the need . Also, don’t forget the power of touch: a warm handshake or a hug can often say more than words to one who is suffering the loss of their cherished friend.