Losing a pet
Children and pet loss
Seniors and pet loss
Other animals and pet loss
This is for pet lovers. People who consider animals to be part of the family. People who talk to their pets, and know what their pets are “saying”. People who make sure pets get medical attention. People who stress out if the pet gets lost. And people who know how hard it is when a pet dies.
To many, “it’s JUST a dog/cat/bird/snake/hamster/etc”. So we keep our grief to ourselves. Then we are blessed by someone who knows the heartache of losing a non-human family member. Who listens to a story or two. Who expresses condolences. It means so much when you’re asked your companion’s name, breed, age. It was a long time coming, but there are condolence cards for pet loss. What comfort they bring in the mail.
Is the grief process the same after a pet loss as it is after losing a human family member? Absolutely. Perhaps even more difficult because grieving “a dumb animal” is not widely accepted in society. Thankfully, there are pet loss grief support groups. Ask your vet about a local chapter. Some internet investigation may also bring results. Put “pet loss” in your search engine.
For help in getting through the grief process, see other articles on the Bereavement Home Page. The term “Loved One” applies to any creature we care for.
For children, the loss of a pet may be their first experience with death. Thinking they are protecting the child, or that the child cannot comprehend, adults often don’t tell the truth about what has happened. Please, PLEASE don’t tell the child the pet has run away, gone to live elsewhere, or anything but what has actually taken place. You are cheating the child of a growth opportunity. You cannot imagine what it does to that child years later when the truth comes out. And the truth will come out. You may pay dearly for the hurt, no matter how well meaning your intentions. If you can’t handle discussing it with a child, find someone who can. And listen in. If you can’t talk about it, you may need the help, too. It’s up to you to model grief for the child. This is a lost art in our society.
It’s critically important to understand that the child may fear that since the pet has died and gone away, other members of the family may follow suit. You bring up the subject. Explain that you’re not going anywhere, and will help the child through his sadness. Don’t hide your sorrow, and don’t change the subject if it comes up.
For Senior Citizens, pet loss is particularly painful. When so many friends and family have died or moved away, this one creature has been a constant for them. It is something they can still care for on some level. Something that has all the time in the world to spend with them. Having an animal fights depression. Many living centers have animals brought in for this therapeutic reason. The loss of this pet also reminds them of all the losses they have previously experienced. So if you care for a senior citizen, handle this issue very carefully, with much sympathy and understanding.
As always, the best thing to do, for any one, after any loss, is talk, talk, talk.
It may surprise some that other animals in the home will also grieve the death of a pet. Animal lovers know this. The animals will keep looking for that member of the family. They may be lethargic for a while, even have little interest in food or water. If at all possible, a good thing to do is let the other animals visit the deceased pet. Yes, this sounds wacky to some. But the animals naturally recognize the smell of death. They will then understand what has happened. They will still grieve, and you are encouraged to grieve with them. They’ll need as much TLC as you do at this time.
A note here about getting another pet after losing one. Don’t do it right away. Give yourself time to get over the death. Experience life without the responsibility of a pet for a while. In time, you’ll know if adopting another pet is the thing to do. Deciding to live pet free does not dishonor your pet. It’s just all part of the process. Give the kids a chance to get over it, too. Getting another animal right away may delay the grieving process, and that’s not the healthiest thing to do. Other animals may not adapt to a new family member as easily if they haven’t had time to recover from the loss.
Upon the death of your pet, you have several options. In urban areas, the most common thing is to take the animal to a vet clinic, which will take care of the remains according to civil code.
You may request your pet’s ashes. There is a small fee for this, and there may be ashes of other pets mixed in. If you want a private cremation, the fees get much higher.
There are pet cemeteries. Some take the pet’s body, others the ashes. Many have places to scatter ashes rather than bury them. Many have a memorial wall on which a plaque with your companion’s name can be placed.
For the environmentalists, a pet’s body may be rendered into fertilizer or tallow. It may take some work to find a source for this, but they’re out there.
The best way to memorialize your pet is through a donation to an animal care society or shelter. If you know someone who has lost an animal friend, this gift brings comfort and joy upon notification.
Losing an animal friend can throw us into emotional turmoil. In our society, certain rituals have become standard, and we know what to do after the loss of a human. No such standards exist for animals. Can we go too far in our grief? You probably don’t have to worry about it. Someone who loves you will talk to you about it if it happens. However, we’ve all read stories of people who’ve left fortunes to animals while cutting their grankids out of the will. Going to bizarre measures is most likely a sign of other issues, not just pet loss. This takes more than just talking to family or friends. If you think you’re losing it, or someone gently suggests a problem, get professional help.
Be thankful that you’ve had an animal companion. Glad you’ve known that love. Make sure we’re loving humans the same way. Help heal the planet.
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