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I’ve been an animal lover and pet owner my entire life. I’ve had different pets, including dogs, fish, lizards, and a guinea pig. As wonderful as animals can be, nothing can prepare you for coping with the loss of a pet. The loss can cause immense sorrow and grief. Simple reminders of your pet can force you to become depressed. Constant reminders like walking into your home and missing your daily greeting or seeing the blank space on your couch where they used to lay can hurt.
We all have a special bond with our pets that no one can take away. People who aren’t pet owners can’t understand this bond, and it can be hard to explain. When we lose a pet, these people might not understand why it’s so hard for us; after all, “it’s just a dog.” But we know different.
Our pets are more than “just a dog.” Our pets are our friends and companions through thick and thin. They listen to our problems (yes, I talk to my dogs) and are always there for us, offering 100% unconditional love.
For my family and me, our main pets have always been dogs. I have unfortunately lost quite a few since my childhood, but just recently, our sweet Havanese Celie. Celie came into our lives 13 years ago and was a gift to my daughter Grace, who had just entered first grade and was struggling with the change.
My wife and I thought that a puppy would be a great distraction for her and bring some happiness as well. Celie fit right into our house and adjusted well to our other dog at the time Rascal (our Maltese), who lived to a ripe old age of 17.
Throughout the years, we brought other furry friends into the mix with Celie (all rescues) and lost some along the way. Blue (a Yorkshire Terrier), a rescue from an abusive home, passed away a few years back. Mia is a terrier mix rescue who came from an animal shelter in Georgia. Rocco is a Beagle mix (who was about 5 when we got him) came from a home that didn’t want him anymore, so they set him loose on the streets. Kiwi (our newest addition) is a Yorkshire Terrier who was also found mangey and walking the streets. Up until Celie’s death, we had four dogs in the house.
People would laugh when we said we had four dogs, “That’s a lot of dogs in one house,” but it isn’t really. They all got along together and often cuddled up on the same mat, except for Celie. All our dogs “have voices,” and Celie’s was a feisty Spanish accent. Her breed was Havenese, which means she’s from Cuba.
Celie was in her own world at times and could sit outside on the deck for hours on end in the sun, summer or winter. She didn’t bother much with the other dogs up until she started getting sick.
In our hearts, I think we knew that she was sick but didn’t want to admit it. She started slowing down on her eating and eventually didn’t want to eat at all. Even though she was still drinking and going outside like usual, we knew she wasn’t right and took her to the vet. We’ve had the same vet for years, and he truly is one of the most caring individuals.
He told us that they would examine Celie and run blood work and do some x-rays and that we could come back in an hour for the results. We had no idea when we brought her in that this would be the last time she’d see her house or her brothers and sisters.
The vet let us know that Celie was in liver and kidney failure. Her liver was enlarged, and squashing her stomach which was most likely why she stopped eating. They could do exploratory surgery, but we didn’t feel like we wanted to put her through a procedure like that at 13 years old.
The doctor agreed, and we said our goodbyes to our beloved Celie Bear. It’s almost like she knew this was the end for her. We hugged her and let her know how special she was and stroked her fur one last time.
The vet hugged us on the way out and told us that we did the right thing though it never feels right when it is happening. Celie’s ashes will sit alongside her brothers, Rascal and Blue, on our bookcase. We will always remember her expressive eyes and unique personality.
The experience of losing a pet is different for everyone. If the pet that passed away was your only pet, you might experience a silence in your home that you’re not used to. No longer hearing the patter of paws on the wooden floors or the sound of barking when a car door closes may be overwhelming. Coping with the loss of a pet isn’t easy, but it helps to consider the following:
Acknowledge the reality of your loss
Coping with the loss of a pet can seem unreal when it first happens. It may take days, weeks, or months to feel normal again and be used to a life without your beloved pet by your side. Remember that it took time to develop a relationship with your pet, so it may take time to get over their loss as well.
Don’t let people tell you how to feel
When coping with the loss of a pet, do not let others dictate how you should be feeling or how long you should grieve. Don’t allow people to tell you to “get over it” or “move on.” That timing is for you to decide and no one else. Whatever emotions you are feeling, know that it is normal. You may be angry or sad, and you may want to cry.
It’s also OK to laugh when thinking about some of the fun times you’ve had with your pet or the funny things they might have done. You determine when it is time to let go, not someone else.
Talk to others who have lost pets
Know that you are not the first person who has had to deal with coping with the loss of a pet. There is a multitude of other people who have gone through precisely what you’re going through. It can be other family members or friends, or online support groups but find someone supportive of your loss and talk to them. You may find that you both have a good cry together, but knowing they understand what you’re going through is vital for the healing process.
Remember the good memories you’ve had
No one can take away the memories you’ve had with your pet, so when coping with the loss of a pet, often think of the good times and positive memories. Looking back on pictures of your pet can be happy and sad at times, but let yourself feel the emotions you are having.
Maintain a routine for any other pets you have
If you have other pets, be aware that that may feel the loss as well, so try to keep their routine as normal as possible. Continue to feed them at the same time and take them out for walks. Show them the same affection you showed before the loss. Animals, especially dogs, are smarter than we think.
Take care of yourself
Coping with the loss of a pet can cause severe anxiety and depression, so make sure you take care of yourself as well. It’s easy to get caught up in worrying about how children will react, but you need to take time for yourself as well. Continue with your regular routines and make sure you are eating correctly and exercising. Spend time in person with friends who understand what you’re going through. Those friends may be able to share some advice on what helped them get through the same situation.
Seek professional help if you need it
If you’re beginning to find that your grief is constant and it’s interfering with your normal day to day life, then seek professional help. Be careful that coping with the loss of a pet doesn’t trigger depression.
Helping Children Cope With The Loss Of A Pet
For children, the loss of a pet may be their first experience with death, and the first chance you have to teach them about coping with death and grief. Many children, like adults, love their pets immensely and, in many situations, have had the pet their entire life. Parents may try to shield their child from the grief involved with losing their pet by not talking about it or not being honest with their child. In my opinion, this is the wrong approach.
Telling the child that “Sparky” ran away or went to the country to live with his brother may cause more confusion and anxiety for the child, especially if they should one day learn the truth. Be upfront and honest with your children and let them grieve in their own way just as we do.
Let them grieve
Allow your child to grieve openly and honestly and don’t push ideas into their heads on how or what they should feel. Be aware that what you feel compared to your child may be different. Give your children a bit of credit that they can show compassion for the loss of their pet.
Coping with the loss of a pet can raise questions for your children as to death in general, mostly of other adults like their parents. Assure them that you most likely will not be dying soon and not to worry but listen to their thoughts and concerns.
Involve your children
Your children should be involved in putting together mementos of your pet, including choosing pictures and arranging any memorial services you might have. Sometimes a simple ceremony at home where each child can have time to talk about the pet will help them in the grieving process. A memorial service can help them openly express their feelings and emotions.
Don’t rush to replace
A common mistake parents make is to rush out and get a replacement pet before the child has had the chance to finish grieving their loss. The message you are sending when immediately replacing a pet is that the emotions and feelings your child has can be overcome by getting a new pet.
Coping with the loss of a pet is not easy, and I don’t wish the process on anyone. Grief is an ongoing process. Realize that it is entirely reasonable to mourn the loss of a beloved pet. Do not avoid the feelings or try to avoid them. Take your time in the grieving process and speak to others who have gone through the same situation.
As hard as it is to lose a pet, you have to remember the good times you had and the wonderful life you gave them. Each time I lose a pet, I vow never to put myself through the pain again, but because of my love for animals, I do.
If you are looking for a pet, make sure to adopt one. There are so many good animals looking for homes in shelters.
Have you ever lost a pet, and if so, how did you cope with the loss? Comment below.
In memory of Celie…
I can relate how you must be feeling after losing Celie. We too had pets in our house right from childhood days. And I can never forget how I cried for days together after losing our Alsatian. Only time was the healer.
Oh, I am so so sorry about your loss. Losing a pet is so difficult. We’ve also lost a few over the years, but our last was the hardest to take. He’d been an ill puppy and needed lots of TLC and simply etched himself right into our hearts. He was our ‘boy’. Three years ago, at eleven years old, he suddenly got ill and we also had to do the right thing for him. It’s not right to prolong suffering. Three years on, we still miss him terribly, but we also laugh and have so many happy memories. It’s hard, but, the memories do get you through.
I’m glad you said about not rushing out to get a new pet as a replacement. A few people said to us that we should just get another dog. How can you just “replace” a member of your family?
Thanks for the kind words Elizabeth. It’s hard losing a furry friend.
The death of a pet is never easy. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for using this pain to help others in similar situations.
I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Losing our pets is such a difficult thing especially when they’ve been a friend for so long like in Celie’s case. Our pets become apart of our story and what makes us, us. It is no surprise that letting them go can be one of the hardest things to do.
Your ways of coping with the loss of a pet are great though, all very healthy things that will help you remember your furry friend and move forward in a healthy way.
We have a 19 year old Bichon shi tzu and I know that soon the day will come when we will have to say goodbye to Chevy. It makes me so sad to think about, and especially thinking about how the kids will deal with it as he’s been around for their entire lives. So I really do appreciate these tips you’ve shared, and I think they will come in useful when the time comes.
Thinking of you and your family, Scott.
My wife had Bichons growing up. So cute.
It can be extremely difficult to handle, I lost one of my dear fur babies a few years ago and it was beyond heart breaking. It took me a while to get over it, and I still get sad sometimes wishing they were here, but then I remember how lucky I was being able to spend as much time as I did with my kitty.
My thoughts are truly with you at this terrible time. Like you, I love dogs as well and losing a dog can be so devastating simply because they are so selfless, non-judgmental and loving so unconditionally. I love the coping suggestions you have included here. They all make a lot of sense to help cope with a genuine grieving process that any dog owner will go through. Celie looks like such a cutie – may she rest in peace in doggy heaven. Best wishes to you Scott.
Oh, this was a tough one to read, Scott. I had tears in my eyes. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine the pain. I grew up surrounded by animals as well but left my hometown long before some of our pets passed, so I didn’t feel it the hardest but my mom did. I now have my own dog, Bella, and she means the world to me. I rescued her when she was only 3 months old and she is going to be 8 next month. Time flies, I already suffer just to think about not having her around. And 4 dogs isn’t a lot, thank you for rescuing them and giving them a happy life!!! Virtual hugs to you and the fam!!!
Thanks Aryanne. We would only rescue from here on out.
I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved dog Celie. They really do become a part of the family and it takes a long time to get over the loss of a pet. I like the tips you’ve mentioned here and I’m sure they’ll help people going through the loss of a dog or any pet really.
Thank you Kelly.
This is one of the reasons I stayed off owning a pet. I couldn’t remember anything that me sadder than the day we lost our Alsatian dog. I cried myself to a 4-day admission at the hospital.
The worst part is other peoples insensitive opinion like “ordinary dog” that made me vow to stay away from owning another pet.
I may consider a turtle though, I heard they have an average of 3 human lifespan.
A nice big sea turtle
Sending you my condolences on losing Celie The price we pay for the wonderful years spent with a pet is knowing that they will die before you. All you can do is make their life as good as possible, and then do the same for their death. Coping… well, allowing yourself to feel the grief and process it is essential. And when you do think about getting another pet, make sure that is not to fill the hole left by the one that died, but because you are ready to create a new relationship with a different animal.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved Celie. It brought me to tears because it made me think of my first pet, a cat, who we had for 17 years. People who have never had a pet could never understand how they become part of your family. Having a pet brings companionship, joy and compassion. It’s important to grieve the loss and never let anyone make you feel silly for mourning the loss of a pet. Everyone copes with losing a family pet differently, but we have should always be thankful for the gift they’ve given us, however long that may be.
I’m so sorry for your loss! Good decision on not putting Celie through any more pain – I’m sure it must have been a tough one. We lost a German Shephard a few years ago and it really helped us to remember the good memories we had of him through pictures/ videos.
Also so great that you’ve taken in so many rescues, such a kind thing to do!
There are some really good tips and advice here. I am sure that many will find this really useful for such a sad time x
I’m so sorry to read about the loss of your pet, Scott. They really are more than just a dog or a cat, and it hurts. When I lost my cat, Smoke, my other one, Tigger could not understand. He would run around the house looking for Smoke and crying. Normally they hated each other, but Tigger still knew something was wrong. Like Smoke was still part of his life, and it made me cry for weeks. I cuddled Tigger constantly. The worst part was walking into my house and looking at the back of my couch and it was empty. My blue eyed monster was supposed to be there waiting. Tigger has never done well with being left alone for too long since then. Which is exactly why I designed and built his bed in my office so he had a place to hang out with me while I work. They really are family, no matter what anyone says.
They indeed are family and better than many family members I have. 🙂
I’m so sorry for your loss, i know how you must be feeling cause i too have lost pets and it’s really difficult. Thanks for sharing your memories and some really good tips on how to cope with this loss. In my opinion, what makes it worst is the people around us who doesn’t understand.
I am so sorry for your loss. It feels so hard. you know you are not together for long but it’s still a huge pain as if they were human, a true family. at least it’s how I feel