by Melissa Chichester
The relationship we have with our pets is one of comfort, companionship, and unconditional love. When it is time to say goodbye to a pet, no matter how long their lives have been, it never seems like enough time has been spent with them. Pet parents know that they are more than animals: they are family members. Here are some ideas to work through pet loss at your own pace.
The first night without your pet will be the most difficult. Don’t expect to feel a certain way; accept your emotional response for what it is. It might take weeks or months to feel a “new normal.” Be kind to yourself and use this time to process your loss and the feelings that are often accompanied with it, like guilt, anger, and denial. Working through grief is different for everyone, but acknowledging and accepting the loss makes for a healthier journey of mourning and recovery.
Writing is extremely therapeutic: it allows you to express your emotions, and the best part is that nobody has to see it. You can write with a pen and shred the pages, or if you prefer writing on a computer or smartphone, you can simply delete it if you never want to read it again. Write down emotions of sadness, anger, or denial; write a poem (or several); or write about your favorite memories with your pet.
Photographs, scrapbooks, and videos are important visual ways to honor your pet. Most pet parents have a 1,000+ photos of Fido on their smartphones (or is that just me?). Browse through photos and print out your favorites to compile in an album, or create a folder in a digital storage space especially for your pet memories (Google Drive and Dropbox are great for this).
Adopting a new pet will never erase the love you have for the deceased, but if and when you decide to adopt another pet is a highly personal decision. Whether it is a day, a month, or one year after losing your pet, there is no right or wrong answer to the question “when should I adopt again?” Trust your instincts when it comes to finding your next companion.
If friends and family members around you aren’t supportive in your grief, seek out people who are. Online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups are all resources to speak with likeminded individuals who understand this unique grief. This outlet will allow you to talk about your pet and tell stories without fear of being judged. A quick Google search or speaking to your veterinarian will help you get in touch with local groups. Facebook groups tailored to specific breeds or illnesses are also helpful. If you are religious, contacting a clergy member is another option.
“Rainbow Bridge” poem
Pet Loss Message Board
The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping with the Grieving Process Dies by Wallace Sife
Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates by Gary Kurz
Marley and Me by Josh Grogan
The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice from Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups by Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio
The Dog Chapel by Stephen Hunck
Even Bad Dogs go to Heaven by Stephen Hunck
American Veterinary Medical Association Pet Loss Hotline List (Scroll down to “Pet Loss Support-Grief Counseling)
Dog Mountain, St. Johnsbury, Vermont: Dog Mountain is a sanctuary devoted to dogs, including “The Dog Chapel.” This is a pilgrimage for most, but worth it for dog lovers! The inside of the chapel is wallpapered with notes and photo tributes of beloved dogs (and other animals), and you can add a memory of your pet there as well.