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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…