I have recently experienced the loss of a pet who I considered to be a beloved friend, companion and family member. I know the intense pain that accompanies the loss of that friend and wanted to share some tips on coping with that grief, and with the difficult decisions one faces upon the loss of a pet.
It is normal and natural to feel intense grief. Your pet has been a significant and constant part of your life often for many years, providing you with companionship, comfort, unconditional love, fun and joy. So don’t be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a relationship. Try to remember you are not alone, other pet owners will have gone through the same feelings and may be able to offer support.
If your family or friends love pets, they’ll understand what you’re going through. Don’t hide your feelings in a misguided effort to appear strong and calm! Working through your feelings with another person is one of the best ways to put them in perspective and find ways to handle them. Find someone you can talk to about how much the pet meant to you and how much you miss him or her – someone you feel comfortable crying and grieving with. If you don’t have family or friends who understand, or if you need more help, ask your veterinary practice to recommend a pet loss counsellor or support group.
If you have children you will be the best judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the loss of their pet. Don’t underestimate them, however. You may find that being honest with them about your pet’s loss, you may be able to address some fears and misconceptions they have about death. It is important to be honest and try to avoid phrases like “put to sleep” or “went away”. Make sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Try to make it clear that the pet will not come back but that he or she is happy and free of pain. A funeral or memorial service can be very helpful for children (as well as adults) to grieve.
If you have other pets in the household, they are bound to notice the absence of a companion. Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and the survivor of such a pair may seem to grieve for its companion. Cats will also grieve for dogs, and dogs grieve for cats.
You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Remember that, if you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept the newcomer right away, if you have any concerns about introducing a new pet your veterinary practice will be able to offer advice on how and when to go about this. Meanwhile, the love of your surviving pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief.
In time you will feel you are ready to move forward rather than looking backward and mourning your loss. When you are ready, select an animal with whom you can build another long, loving relationship because this is what having a pet is all about!
“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food and water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and vigour, those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing: they miss someone very special to them who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. The bright eyes are intent; the eager body quivers. Suddenly it begins to break away from the group, flying over the green grass, strong legs carrying him faster and faster. YOU have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face, your hands caress the beloved head and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross the rainbow bridge together.”