Losing an animal friend
Losing a friend is sad. When our best mate has fur, four paws and a tail, the feelings of grief are often just as intense as when a human friend or family member dies.
We love pets and we expect to mourn when they ultimately leave us but it is the extent of the sorrow that is often unexpected. Our brains tell us that animals have a shorter lifespan, that they cannot sense their imminent deaths and so we should be able to cope with their departure. Our hearts, however, tell us a different story.
An emotional time
A range of emotions may be felt when a loved animal dies: sadness, guilt, frustration, anger, even relief.
Alice recently had her 14-year old Jack Russell Terrier euthanased. Jack had lived a full and happy life and Alice knew that it was time to say goodbye.
“It was like losing my husband all over again.” Alice tearfully whispered. “In fact I think I cried more because the dog never argued with me!”
What Alice felt is normal. Our animal companions give us unconditional acceptance, often to a greater extent than any human can and, as a result, we bond very strongly. The dog that welcomes you home or the cat that sits on your lap, few humans can give us such undivided attention? The emptiness we feel when a pet has gone is real and nothing to be ashamed of.
Preparing for the inevitable
Although we know we will grieve, we can prepare for our pet’s inevitable end. One of the most difficult decisions we often must make is when to let the animal die. Euthanasia is a decision, ideally made in consultation with our veterinary surgeon, based on the animal’s quality of life. Allowing time to say goodbye to our special friends often helps owners cope with this difficult decision.
We may also have to decide to either bury or cremate our pet. Pet crematoriums and cemeteries are available for our pet’s final resting place or we can bring their ashes home in an urn to keep or to scatter in a favourite spot.
"You have chosen to love and so you will grieve when your animal friend has gone.Life and death - the inevitable circle."
Looking after yourself
When your pet has gone it is important to look after yourself, physically and emotionally. Remember to eat, drink and visit your doctor with any concerns about your health.
Talking to others can help but choose your confidants carefully as not everyone understands the love between people and their pets. “Just a pet” is a common response and non-too helpful!
A memorial service is a special way of celebrating a pet’s life. Holding photos of your pet, their collar, food dishes or a special toy and talking about their lives and your special memories helps many grieving pet owners.
Grieving owners may wonder if getting a new pet will help. Sadly many people do not have this option. Ageing, lack of mobility and living into unsuitable accommodation are all understandable reasons for not replacing the family pet.
If contact with animals is desirable, then organisations such as the Delta Society Australia can organise their Pet Partners to visit or you may like to volunteer a few cuddles at an animal shelter.
A different choice of pet may be more suitable, a cat or a bird rather than a dog, for instance. Remember to give yourself time to grieve and that a new pet can never replace your old one. Each animal is unique but chances are you will grow to love your new friend as much as you did your other pet.
This article first appeared in the journal 'Peace of Mind'
Loss of a pet - a guide for parents