Coping with the Death of Your Pet
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Part of Your Family
Unfortunately, the same doesn’t always hold true if the one who died was your companion animal. Many consider grieving inappropriate for someone who has lost “just a pet”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
People love their pets and consider them members of their family. Caregivers celebrate their pet’s birthdays, confide in their animals, and carry pictures of them in their wallets.
So when your beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow.
Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you’ve already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies.
Understanding how you grieve and finding ways to cope with your loss can bring you closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears.
The Grief Process
The grief process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person and years for another. The process typically begins with denial, which offers protection until individuals can realize their loss.
After these feelings subside, caregivers may experience true sadness or grief. They may become withdrawn or depressed. Acceptance occurs when they accept the reality of their loss and remember their animal companion with decreasing sadness.
Remember, not everyone follows these classic stages of grief—some may skip or repeat a stage, or experience the stages in a different order.
While grief is a personal experience, you need not face loss alone. Many forms of support are available, including pet bereavement counselling services, pet-loss support hotlines, local or online Internet bereavement groups, books, videos, and magazine articles.
Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
- Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
- Don’t hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
- Write about your feelings, either in a journal or even a poem.
- Explore the Internet for pet loss support groups and coping information.
- Prepare a memorial for your pet; this could include:
- Hold an informal memorial service, sharing your memories with your family.
- Find a special place to bury your pet.
- Create a living memorial, like planting a tree in your pet’s honour.
- Make a scrapbook.
- Write down your feelings
Children and Seniors
The loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death. The child may blame himself, his parents, or the veterinarian for not saving the pet. And he may feel guilty, depressed, and frightened that others he loves may be taken from him.
Trying to protect your child by saying the pet ran away could cause your child to expect the pet’s return and feel betrayed after discovering the truth. It is best to explain to the child what has happened in simple age-appropriate terms. Expressing your own grief may reassure your child that sadness is okay and help him work through his feelings.
Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. The pet’s death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind pet owners of their own mortality. What’s more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the caregiver, and hinges on the person’s physical and financial ability to care for a new pet.
For all these reasons, it’s critical that senior pet owners take immediate steps to cope with their loss and regain a sense of purpose.
Should you get another pet? Rushing into this decision isn’t fair to you or your new pet. Each animal has his own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You’ll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership, and paying close attention to your feelings.
When you’re ready, remember that your local animal shelter is a great place to find your next special friend.
If you want to share this information with a friend, you can download the PDF version of this brochure here.