Coping with the Death of a Pet

The English novelist George Eliot said it best about pets when she wrote, “Animals are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions and pass no  criticisms.” Perhaps that is why some pet owners feel closer to their animals  than even other members of their family.

It is no wonder, then, that people experience intense grief at the loss of a  pet and that it can even rival the same levels as the death of a human friend or  family member. Rest assured, that somber feeling following a loss is  completely normal.

What sometimes can make it harder to cope with the death of an animal in a  pet and owner relationship is the impossibility of being able to talk about the  situation if the pet is aging or ailing. — In human interaction, such a  discussion may be able to alleviate some of the questions people  face. Animals don’t understand the process of dying as much.

With humans, conversations can create some closure for loved ones. But  depending on the type of death the animal experiences, there may be no sense of  resolution for a pet owner because there is no opportunity for  communication.

There are several ways that pet owners can help themselves, and others, move  forward after a loss. Here are 7 tips to cope with the loss of a pet.

1. Maintain a normal routine

Sometimes pet owners are used to a schedule that was based on their animal’s  needs. Waking up to walk the dog in the morning was not only a way to keep the  pet healthy but it also helped boost the owner’s activity level.

Be sure to stay active so physical health does not become a concern on top of  emotional strain.

2. Consider holding a farewell ceremony

A farewell ceremony doesn’t need to be as elaborate as a human funeral  typically is, but having a dedicated time set aside to remember your pet and say  goodbye can be very therapeutic and help move you closer to closure.

Deciding how to dispose of your pet’s remains is a personal choice. Some  people choose to bury their pet nearby where it can be visited on a regular  basis. This might not an option for everyone so cremation and keeping or  releasing the pet’s ashes might also help. Still others have gone to the extreme  and decided to take the remains to a taxidermist to preserve the pet.

3. Keep photos or videos

Photos, scrapbooks, home videos, collages and other forms preserving memories  can be a good way to remember the fondest times owners have shared with their  pets. Whether it is a visual reminder or just a journal or even as simple as a  poem, having something concrete that you can revisit time after time can help  you remember your animal.

4. Understand the grief of others

What might be easy for one person to move beyond can seem like an  insurmountable obstacle for another.

Seniors, especially, may have had a long relationship with a pet that may  have been more significant because they have already lost a lot of people in  their lives. The loss of a pet can trigger a response in them to revisit some of  the pain of the loss of human relationships as well.

With a child, the best thing to do is to be honest with them as much as  possible about the death of the pet. Assure them that this pet is no longer in  any pain and although they’re gone, they will always be alive in their  memories.

Having a memorial service is even more important for kids than adults — even  if it’s just for a pet like a fish or hamster — it’s just as important to  acknowledge the significance of the animal’s life.

5. Understand the grief of other pets in the household

For families with multiple pets in the household, the owners are not the only  ones who suffer when an animal dies. The pets themselves have their own  unique relationship in playing with each other or just serving as  companions.

Owners must take that in consideration to give the remaining pets a little  more love and attention to help fill the void that was left without their animal  friend.

6. Finding a replacement pet

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death of the pet, jumping in  and trying to find a replacement as a distraction is not a good idea and can  actually make the grieving process worse.

If the death of a pet is sudden and unexpected, it is important for owners to  take time and fully evaluate when might be a good time to find another pet.  However, if the pet has been ailing or aging for some time, owners may have  already begun the grieving process earlier, and can plan to find a new pet  sooner than expected.

7. Find a support group

If the grief becomes too much to handle alone, surrounding yourself with  others experiencing similar feelings can be beneficial.

Support groups are available in some location for those who need  it.

Pet owners will often feel the same five stages of grief associated with  human loss including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Perhaps they feel guilty because they didn’t do enough to save them or second  guessing themselves on deciding if euthanasia was the best option.

Sometimes people will look at you and try to make you think you shouldn’t be  experiencing as much pain as you are at the loss of a pet. But grief over the  death of a pet really depends on where you are in your life. People have  different reactions to grief and different expectations of death and dying. This  naturally creates varied responses to death of human figures or pet figures.

Rhondda Waddell is the Professor and Director of the Center for Values,  Service and Leadership at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida.

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