One of the most difficult aspects of being a pet owner is dealing with the loss of a beloved companion. Just more than a year ago, my husband and I lost our beloved blind Springer Spaniel, Sage, who had been part of our lives for nearly 12 years. Losing her was not easy; in fact, we still grieve some days, even though we still have Cody and we recently adopted a new dog named Mary. Grief is a feeling I don’t relish.
How does one deal with the loss of a pet? Grief experts remind us that intense sadness is normal. During the years, even if the years are few in number, the pet we have becomes a significant and constant part of our life, and their absence is felt deeply. People experience different emotions when a beloved pet dies, not just sorrow or pain; sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s guilt and sometimes it’s depression. Experts state that one should honestly acknowledge their feelings, not hide or deny them. Try to find a confidant with whom to share your feelings, perhaps another pet owner, a sympathetic family member or friend, in other words, someone who will provide you comfort and understanding, not one who will belittle your true emotions. What you feel is real – don’t mask it.
When talking with children about a pet’s death, honesty is critical. If you say the pet was "put to sleep," be sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. It’s not wise to say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what s/he did to make it leave and be anxiously awaiting its return. Make it clear to your children that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain. Children are never too young or too old to grieve. Please don’t criticize your child for tears or for feeling sad. Be honest about your own sorrow and let them be honest about theirs. Discuss the loss as a family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief in their own time.
If you have other pets in the house, they may also grieve the loss. Pets observe household changes, therefore, they are bound to notice the absence of the other pet and the change in the family’s emotions. Pets can form strong attachments to each other and they recognize when their friend is gone. You may need to give your surviving pet lots of extra attention to help it through this period. That extra attention is helpful for you as well; surviving pets can provide great healing to you and your family. Take time before bringing a new pet into the household as children and surviving pets may not accept a new addition for awhile.
Grieving is a very personal and individualized experience. People grieve differently, therefore, there is no “right way”. Simply being honest with yourself and your family is the key to dealing with the loss of a beloved pet. Grief is part of life, and though it’s a part that may be difficult, healing does come when we allow it.
It’s not easy to lose those we love, but not loving at all is the true loss. Hearts heal to love once again… in time, just as my husband and I felt ready to love Mary... and we do! Though we still miss Sage, we are open to sharing our hearts and home with Mary, an act that will benefit both her and us.
Do you or someone you know face the loss of a beloved pet? For more information about coping with the that grief and the loss of a pet, visit http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grieving_pets.htm.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.