How to Cope With the Loss of a Pet

There was a time in my life when I thought I was going to be a psychologist. I was fascinated by the study of the human mind and desperately wanted to help people. As it turns out, I'm too much of a wimp to pull it off. I can't listen to a sad story without crumbling like an empathetic pansy. I can't watch someone cry without crying with them. And I certainly can't lose a pet without grieving the grief of one who's lost a family member.

Maybe you're here because you've found yourself in that same position. If so -- if you've recently lost a pet and are looking for ways to deal with the pain -- I firstly want you to know that I am so, so sorry.

No one can pretend to know what you're going through -- everyone experiences loss in a different way. Whether yours is a quiet hurt or a wailing wound, it can be difficult to believe that the pain will ever pass. Believe me, it will. There will come a day when you are able to look back on the memories and smile, rather than cry. Until then, you can take healthy steps to cope with the very normal process of grieving for your friend.

1) Don't blame yourself.
You may think your pet's passing is somehow your fault. Odds are, nothing could be further from the truth. Remember that you gave a loving home to an animal that might otherwise have been homeless. You made room in your heart for a dog, or a cat, or a horse to spend their days; to be cherished in a happy and secure environment. Nothing about that is worthy of guilt. Be proud of the place you had in your pet's life.

2) Surround yourself with people who understand.

Not everyone will be able to identify with the pet/pet-owner bond, let alone the emotional ramifications of having that bond disrupted by death. And that's okay. It doesn't make them evil people, and it doesn't mean you need to remove them from your life, or damage your social and working relationships. Right now, however, you need to take care of you. It's difficult enough undergoing this process without having your attachments devalued. So reach beyond your normal social sphere if you must. Make new friends. Join a support group. You may be surprised, not only by the number of people who will share in your grief, but also by the number of people willing to help you through it.

3) Give yourself as much time as you need.
Don't allow anyone to tell you how you should grieve -- or for how long. Some people move on more quickly than others. Making your way through the stages to acceptance may take weeks, it may take months. Don't feel ashamed if it takes longer. And don't feel guilty if it doesn't.

4) Honor your pet's passing in whatever way you feel is most appropriate.
Whether you opt for a burial, the saving or spreading of ashes following a cremation, or the planting of a living memorial (a tree, bush, or perennial flower), we humans find a great deal of comfort and closure in the performing of rituals. The idea of laying our loved ones to rest in a meaningful moment brings us peace. Give your pet and yourself the benefit of ceremony. If you can, supplement the ritual with something that allows you to feel useful and involved, like donating time or money to your local animal shelter.

5) Don't salt the wound.
You may find it more difficult to focus on yourself if you are surrounded by reminders of your pet's absence. Sometimes, it can be helpful to put your pet's things into storage until you've moved on to an easier stage in the grieving process. (If this is too difficult, you can ask a friend or a family member to do it for you.) You aren't locking away your memories, you're simply giving your heart the space it needs to cope.

6) Move on... but only when you're ready.
When the time comes to adopt a new pet, it's normal for people to feel as though they're replacing the one they lost. Take some time to reflect. You know yourself better than anyone. Are you hesitating because you aren't ready for a new pet? Or are you holding yourself back out of misplaced guilt? If you feel that you are ready, know that you aren't using your new pet as a filler to spare yourself pain, you are opening yourself up to new love and happiness -- both of which are things that you very much deserve.

Best of wishes, warmest regards, and every heartfelt hope to you in this difficult time. May your grief be gentle and fleeting. And may your memories fill you with comfort.


~ Owner, Dearest Friend ~

I could never say enough,
Owner, dearest friend,
To thank you for the love you gave
To me, until the end.

I'm sorry that I hurt you
By saying my goodbye.
You gave me such a happy home.
I lived a happy life.

I leapt and played and laughed in ways
You maybe couldn't see.
Of all the pets you might have loved,
I'm glad that you chose me.

It's okay to miss me,
For I will miss you, too.
It's okay to bow your head
And cry if you have to.

However hard it seems today,
Your dear, sweet heart will heal.
For now, my friend, remember me
And feel what you must feel.

But don't give up on loving,
Owner, dearest friend.
Although the cost is oh-so-high,
It's worth it, in the end

To know that you made this pet's life
The best one it could be.
It should be no mystery why
You meant the world to me.

So here's my final word, my friend,
This is my last wish.
Find another lonely pet
And give to them my dish.

Then every time they make you smile,
Know that I'm smiling, too.
Still so proud
To once have been
A dearest friend to you.

~ Vivienne Mathews (2013)

ASPCA Assistance ~
Pet Loss Hotline ~ (877) GRIEF-10
Pet Loss Support Page (Search for Counseling or Pet Cemeteries in Your State) ~
Grief Support Center of Rainbow's Bridge (Forums and Chat Rooms) ~
Helping Children Deal With Loss ~


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Leave ye scrawlins 'ere, but mind that ye treat one another wi' decency, yeah?