Dealing with the Loss of a Pet by Lisa Michalik

This is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss even for me for I, too, have had to deal with the loss of a furry family member. We’re all overcome with excitement and happiness when we pick up our new furry bundles of joy…We anticipate having them with us *forever*. We don’t however, think about the END. The sad reality is that in life everything does come to an end whether it be expected due to illness/old age or unexpected due to tragedy. The pain is still VERY raw and real no matter how that ending finds them.

Just as with humans the grief process is done in 7 stages:

  • Shock or Disbelief – “this really didn’t just happen!”
  • Denial – “this isn’t happening to me!”
  • Bargaining – “I promise I’ll…if…”
  • Guilt – “If only I hadn’t opened the door”
  • Anger – “why is this happening to me”!”
  • Depression – “I just don’t care anymore..why bother”
  • Acceptance – “I’m ready for this”

This is not meant to be a complete list of feelings/emotions that can be felt nor do they occur in this order. You may experience only some or perhaps ALL of them. Whatever emotion you do experience is very real to YOU and should be allowed to progress naturally. The most important thing to do is be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling. Don’t deny your pain, or your feelings of anger and guilt. You need to face your feelings in order to deal with them.

You have every right to feel these emotions! Someone you loved has passed away. Avoiding grief or pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away. Express it. Cry, scream, pound the floor, talk about it. Do what helps you the most. Don’t try to avoid grief by not thinking about your pet; instead, reminisce about the good times. This will be incredibly painful at first but believe me it DOES get easier in time. This will help you understand what your pet’s loss actually means to you.

Some find it helpful to express their feelings and memories in poems, stories, or letters to the pet. You might want to consider changing your daily schedule to fill in the voids where you would have spent time walking your dog, feeding the cat etc. Some people choose to prepare a memorial such as a photo collage.

If your family or friends love pets, they’ll understand what you’re going through. Don’t hide your feelings in attempt 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 it-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 veterinarian or humane association to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group. Your church or hospital may be a good resource for grief counseling.

Keep in mind that other pets and children will need to grieve the loss as well. You are the best judgement about how much information your child can handle about death and loss. Never, however, underestimate them. They may surprise you and be able to handle more than you think. Being honest gives you the best opportunity to address any questions or fears your child may have about death.

Be honest with your child. If you tell him/her that Fido “went to sleep” it’s important that you explain the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Telling your child that Fido “ran away” could evoke guilty feelings in your child and leave him wondering what he did wrong to make Fido leave. Family pets do often form strong emotional attachments to each other, therefore this is also a loss for them. Your remaining pets may become depressed and appear to be grieving. It’s important that you allot a lot of extra time and attention to help them through this.

Lots of people ask whether or not they should get another pet right away. My answer to that is NO. You really do need to wait until after you’ve completed the grieving process – meaning you have accepted the loss. This would be unfair to the new pet because it will not be until then that you will be able to give yourself fully (physically & emotionally) to him/her. There is no *text-book* time frame for this process. It could take weeks or even months to years. Everybody grieves at their own pace.

When the time finally arrives that you decide to bring another pet into your life and home you can know in your heart that your furry friend will be looking down from above with pride and excitement that another lucky animal will get to share in the same love and happiness that s/he once shared with you.