Vol 4 No 3

Summer 2002

Front Page

Features in this Issue:

Another Puppy Mill Rescue ... and a Golden Bells Update!

GRRI's 2nd Annual Rescue Reunion

Pet Loss

Send Jagger to Orlando!

Happy News

Letters to GRRI

GRRI NEWS Archives

 Coping With the Death of A Pet

We love our pets, and we do everything in our power to keep them healthy and safe so that they will remain in our lives for as long as possible. We cast the thought of their deaths from our minds, because itís just too painful to imagine.  But unfortunately, no matter what we do, eventually the time comes when we have to say goodbye.

Losing a beloved pet is a traumatic and devastating experience.  A significant part of our lives Ė one that has given us joy, friendship, comfort, and unconditional love - has just been ripped away.  Whatís left is a huge void that nothing and no one can fill.

Often, itís difficult to express feelings of grief when we lose our pets, because other people just don't understand the emotional depth of the  bond we've shared.  Sadly, this can make the grieving process even harder, because we feel we must keep our feelings of grief inside.  But what's most important to recognize is that these feelings, especially those that we so often hold in check publicly, are valid and real.  And once we accept them and process them within ourselves, we can begin to move through them and to heal. 

Common Emotions
Although each person handles grief differently, and grieving itself can change even within a person who isn't new to experiencing loss, some emotions are common to most grief experiences.  Grief counselors have found that processing these emotions in a healing way is often about recognizing them and then allowing ourselves to move beyond them -- whether we do that on our own, or with the help of professional grief support services. 

Following are some emotions you may face when you deal with pet loss, and some frameworks for processing them.

Denial Ė After the death of your pet, you may not be able to emotionally accept that he or she is really gone, and you may try to use denial to hide from your pain.  While denial may temporarily mask your sad feelings and enable you to go on with your day to day routine, ultimately, it isn't an effective or healthy coping mechanism.  Which is why, difficult as it is, you must face the loss and begin to deal honestly and openly with your feelings.

Guilt Ė Initially, you may feel responsible for your petís death.  Perhaps you believe you could have done something to prevent it, or believe you even did something to cause it. And if you had to make the decision to euthanize your companion, you may question your decision and feel guilty about having made it.  With guilt, you focus on your own shortcomings and remain in your grief as a form of self punishment ... with devastating consequences to yourself over time.  This is why itís important to reposition your thinking and to focus on the lifetime of positive memories with your companion, not the negative memories surrounding his or her death.

Anger Ė- Anger can be directed at anyone or anything ... at your veterinarian, your petís illness, another family member, or even your pet, and allows you to place blame for the loss of your pet and your pain ON someone or something.  Even though this feeling is real and sometimes even justified, the outcome -- your pet's death -- can't be altered, and hostility is a powerful and hungry force that drains your energy from other important elements of your life.  Getting past the anger, facing the loss head on, and moving through your grief is important and necessary.

Depression Ė This is the most common consequence of dealing with the loss of your companion Ė an event that can easily send you into a period of despair and seemingly irreversible sadness.  Some depression is to be expected after such a traumatic occurrence, but if your depression becomes debilitating or continues for a long period of time, getting yourself professional help to break the cycle is paramount. 

Focusing on the Positive
After losing your companion, itís important that you give yourself the proper time to grieve.  Sometimes itís necessary to just give in and be sad.  Crying can actually be a cathartic experience and can help you recognize the extent of your grief.  Eventually, however, you have to pick yourself up and go on with your life (even though you may not feel like it). 

One of the most important steps in healing is to try not to focus on the images surrounding your companionís death.  This may be very difficult to do, especially if your pet had a long-term illness or suffered a traumatic death.  If you were present during his/her last moments, that image may haunt you for a long time. 

Make every attempt to focus on the positive images and memories of your companion.  If you keep your companionís life and the time you spent with him or her in perspective, you will realize how much happiness the two of you had together and will treasure these memories forever.

Memorializing Your Pet
Creating a memorial to your companion can be an excellent way to help you focus on the positive memories. Although the creative process may be emotionally draining, the emotional release can be very meaningful and the outcome can serve as a wonderful tribute to your pet.  

Following are a few ideas that can be customized to your own personal circumstances and can be done either alone or with other members of your family.  If you have children, it can be especially helpful to engage them in these activities.

Put together a photo collage or photo album of your pet.

Have one or two special photographs framed. 

Have a portrait painted.

Create something unique with your companion in mind (a statue, a pillow, a wall hanging). 

Write a poem or a short story about your companion.

Post a memorial to your pet on the Internet.  Many animal advocacy/rescue organizations, including GRRI, have this service available on their Web pages.  The fee charged will help other animals in need.

Plant a tree in your backyard or have one planted for your companion. Treegivers is an organization that will plant a tree in any state throughout the nation.

Make a contribution in your petís name to an animal advocacy/rescue group.

Make a contribution to an organization that does research on the particular disease/condition that took your petís life.

Purchase an item that reminds you of your companion and find a special place for it in your home (a statue, a photo/print, etc.).

Place a few of your petís belongings in a special box for safe keeping (toys, collar, tags, a lock of hair, etc.).

Put a statue or a stone with your companionís name on it in a favorite spot in your backyard. 

Bringing Home a New Companion
Making the decision to bring home a new companion is entirely dependent on your state of readiness.  Some people may not be able to handle the loneliness of an empty house and may decide to find a new pet immediately.  Others may need years before feeling ready.

Bringing home a new companion too soon - before youíve had the time to properly grieve - is unfair to you, your family, and the animal.  You may develop resentment toward your new pet simply because you havenít had sufficient time to deal with the loss of your previous pet; or you may concentrate on unfair comparisons between the two, limiting your ability to establish a distinct new relationship and bond.

If you think you may be ready for a new companion, consider the following as a part of your decision making:

Bring home your new pet realizing that he or she is a unique individual with whom you will establish a brand new loving relationship. If you try to find a new companion that looks and acts the same as the companion you've lost, youíll be doing a disservice to the new animal and youíll be setting yourself up for a huge disappointment.

Remember that the commitment to your new pet is life long; the decision to bring him or her home shouldn't be made on impluse, but on thoughtful consideration of the needs of your entire household.

Work with a shelter, rescue group, or responsible breeder found through a national or state breed club, like the GRCA, to find your new pet.  Pet stores and back yard breeders may offer a quick fix solution,  but more reputable sources offer better pets ... and supporting them is a more worthy tribute to the pet you've lost.

Involve your entire household in the decision to find a new pet.  Consider the readiness of your children, for example, and draw them out on every aspect of the process to be sure they are truly ready.  Its important to recognize that many children hold back expressions of grief because the feelings are too scary for them, or because they are concerned about YOU and your feelings. Let them know that its OK to for them to express themselves to you.

If your previous companion died of an illness that can be transmitted to another animal, be sure to speak with your veterinarian to find out the specific precautions you should take.

Consider your surviving pets and their needs.  Many surviving pets do fine without a new pet at home, while others seem depressed and less active in the absence of a fellow four-legger.

If you think youíre ready to bring home a new pet, make sure you approach the experience with the right attitude.  Be prepared to embrace your new companion with as much love as that which you gave your previous one.

Getting Help
If you donít feel you can move through the grieving process on your own, seek out the help and support of professional counselors or pet loss support groups.  These services exist because many people NEED them, and because they WORK!

Support groups by phone:

In-person support groups/counselors: 

Support groups through the Internet: 

For Additional Resources:
The Information Links Page on the GRRI website has an entire section on Pet Loss

The Recommended Books Page on the GRRI website has books for adults and for children on Pet Loss.

Thanks to GRRI volunteer Annette Skiendziel for contributing this article to the GRRI News!