Pet Bereavement

 

 

 

Grieving For a Beloved Pet

 

Regardless of whether your pet is a dog, cat, ferret, bird, hamster, horse, snake, or any other living creature, it’s almost certain that you will outlive your pet. We would like to have them in our homes and our lives forever, but we know that eventually we will have to say good-bye. Just as all living creatures are inter-connected, all our lives, too, are impermanent. Some people don’t keep pets for exactly this reason; it’s too difficult to love them, knowing that our love won’t keep them alive. Their deaths and those good-byes are simply too painful.

However, most pet owners would rather experience the normal sorrow of their deaths than not have all the joy that they give us over the years. This may be difficult for someone to understand who has never loved or been loved by an animal. Grieving for a pet is natural if the pet shared your life, your house, and even a spot on your bed! Comments from others like, “It’s only a dog,” “You can always buy another parrot,” or “Now you don’t have to clean up after it anymore” are not only rude and insensitive, but they also prolong your grief because it seems like no one understands how hard it can be to lose an animal that you loved so much. So many wonderful memories! So many mornings of gentle wet noses to wake us up! So many evenings of being greeted at the door by a wagging tail or a cheery greeting from a talkative parrot! With your pet’s death, you may feel lost and alone. Your home feels empty and much too quiet. Your routine is disrupted. Something is missing that can never be replaced. A family member has died.

Pet loss inevitably occurs in the following manners:

  • Your pet lived a healthy, happy life and reached the end of her life span, as do all creatures great and small.
  • Your pet developed an illness that proved to be fatal despite the best veterinary care that you could provide.
  • Your pet suffered a severe injury that resulted in his death.
  • You made the very difficult decision to humanely euthanize your seriously ill or injured pet when she was suffering and no improvement was expected.
  • Similar to SIDS in infants, your pet’s death was caused by “fading puppy” or “fading kitten” syndrome. You’re grieving for the loss of your pet before you even got to know him.

 

A helpful way to cope with pet loss is a technique often used in psychotherapy called “positive reframing.” Instead of focusing only the sadness of your pet’s death and your grief, try focusing instead on the times of joy and fun that you and your pet shared. Celebrate your pet’s life instead of only grieving for his death. Rather than suppressing memories of happy times with your pet because they’re painful, go ahead and experience the bittersweet memories that you will cherish for a lifetime. Go ahead and look at her pictures when she was just a little ball of fluff; tears never hurt, but they are often cathartic.

Another easy and helpful way to put your grief in perspective that’s a standard intervention in today’s world involves the concept of mindfulness. Based upon teachings of the Buddha nearly 3,000 years ago, living mindfully simply means living in the here and now; the present moment is all we have since we can’t change the past and the future is unknowable.  Whatever you feel about your pet’s death – sorrow, guilt, anger, loneliness, etc. – in the present moment, go ahead and feel it! Notice what you’re feeling, react to the feeling (tears are okay!) and then let it go. Holding on to feelings can cause us big trouble; this is when you start saying, “I’ll never have another pet,” or “That lousy veterinarian killed my cat.” Don’t go there! Suppressing your feelings of healthy grief for a lost loved one doesn’t fall into the “normal” category!

Keep in mind that each person experiences grief differently; there is no “right or wrong” way to grieve.  Below are some additional suggestions that may help you cope with your beloved pet’s loss:

  • To achieve closure, consider burying your pet in a special pet cemetery or on your own property if you can legally do so in your town. This often helps pet owners resolve their grief by knowing that their companion has a final resting place that they can visit if they wish over the years.
  • If you elect to have your pet cremated, take the ashes home with you for burial in a lovely urn or wooden box. If you prefer, keep the cremains in a special place in your home or on your property.
  • Grief counselors recommend that you not purchase another pet until you have fully resolved grieving for your lost pet. Some people do this on impulse because their lives seem so lonely without their pet. However, you will most likely expect your new pet to take the place of your lost pet; this is not fair to the animal, who has a “personality” all his own. She deserves to be loved and appreciated for herself, not as a substitute for a deceased pet.
  • Talk with empathetic friends and family members who understand your grief for your companion pet. Allow them to console and support you during this painful time in your life. Don’t keep your grieving a secret; while you don’t need to be hysterical, talk about your sadness and how much you loved and miss your pet.
  • Never feel ashamed, silly or embarrassed by grieving for your pet. You don’t need anyone’s opinion, approval or permission to mourn the death of a beloved family member.
  • Comfort yourself by knowing that you gave your pet a wonderful life. You were so lucky to have found each other! Thank her for her unconditional love and for sharing your world.

One day, when the time is right, you may wish to once again share your life with wagging tails, cheerful chirps, the gentle nudge of an equine nose at feeding time or contented purring. If you listen to your heart, you will know when it’s time.

 

Story by

Margaret