Saying Goodbye

Mourning the loss of a pet: Comforting tips to help you cope
by Amy Marder, VMD & Prevention Magazine

Our pets are our companions, roommates, playmates and -for some of us- like beloved children. These special relationships are deeply missed when our pet is no longer with us.

Quick Tip: Don't be self conscious about expressing grief over the loss of a pet: it's perfectly normal.

I know this pain all too well. My dog Duncan was my constant companion: He endured veterinary school with me, was there when my parents passed away, and ran by my side during my first road race. When I lost him to cancer seven years ago, I lost not only my running buddy but my best friend. Even though I have two other dogs now, I still think of Duncan every time I run a race.

Grief is Natural
m I crazy? No. Is it normal for a person to have such a strong and enduring reaction after the loss of a animal? Absolutely. After sharing so many life experiences with an animal, why shouldn't we feel sad?

Quick Tip: intrense grief after losing a pet can last for a few weeks or months. Give yourself time to recover.

The process of grieving the loss of a pet is very much the same as mourning the death or departure of a human being. The degree to which we are affected depends both on the type of relationship we had with our pet and the nature of the pet's death. When an animal dies at an advance age from a gradually debilitating illness, the owner has time to prepare for the eventual loss. When a pet dies unexpectedly or traumatically (as in a car accident), the owner may experience a greater reaction as well as feeling of guilt that the death could have been prevented.

If you are feeling the pain of grief for a pet, be patient. You will get through it. Most people recover from the most intense sorrow within a few weeks to a few months after their animal's death. Here are nine suggestions to help you though that period.

The Healing Arts
1. Say Goodbye. Take the time for this. Let him know how much he meant to you in your own way: if you're a poet, for example, tell him in a poem. Although this is best done while the pet is still alive, saying goodbye can also help you after your loss. (If you are confronted with a painful decision about euthanasia, schedule a conference with your veterinarian. Ask the doctor everything you've wondered about, from the procedure itself to what the animal feels. Asking your veterinarian what she would do if your pet were hers is often helpful.)

2. Let Yourself Grieve. Don't be embarrassed about having intense feelings over the loss of an animal. You have just lost one of the closest relationships you have ever had. It's okay to cry! Blocking the normal grief process can prolong your sorrow.

3. Talk Through It. Pour your heart out to an understanding and sympathetic friend or family member. This can help sort out your feelings. If you don't have an understanding person to talk to, find a support group or pet loss counselor.

4. Reminisce. Recall the many ways that your pet played a part in your life. Pull out all the pictures from puppy hood on up. You'll find some smiles among the tears.

5. Have a Memorial Service. This helps you confirm that your pet is really gone. Decide how you want to handle your pet's remains. A home burial will allow you to design your own funeral ceremony. If this is not possible, a pet cemetery or cremation are other options. If you choose cremation, you can decide to bury the ashes, scatter them in your pet's favorite location, or keep them with you in an urn.

6. Be Honest with your children and allow them to express their feelings too. The loss of a family pet is often a child's first experience with death. Discuss the loss with your whole family and give everyone a chance to work though grief in her own style.

7. Get Help. Sometimes the sympathy of friends or family isn't enough to help you through this difficult time. If your grief interferes with your normal life for more than a few weeks than it's a good idea to consult an professional councilor.

8. Give a Gift in Your Pets Memory. Make a donation in your pet's name to a humane society, animal shelter, rescue organization, pet therapy group, or other animal-oriented charity. This will allow you and your pet to leave a meaningful legacy for others.

9. Take Time. When is it okay to bring another animal into your life? Wait until you feel pretty much back to normal before you attempt to build a relationship with a new pet. Remember, getting another pet does not mean that you are being disloyal to the pet that you just lost. You are not replacing your beloved companion: there will never be another pet like the one you lost. Treasure the memories of your old pet, and when you are ready, move on to a different and wonderful relationship with a new pet.


Pet Loss Resources: Where to turn.
Delta Society: this non-profit group is devoted to the human / animal bond. They will provide a catalog of many useful resources that you can order, including books and videos about pet loss and a state-by-state listing of local pet loss counselors and support groups. 800-869-6898

Your nearest veterinary school or humane society: a significant number of them can refer you to professional counselors, hotlines, and support groups.



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