What to Do When a Pet Dies
We are so deeply sorry if you have lost your beloved pet. Our animal companions are not “just animals”. They are family members, children, and best friends. The love that they give us has no strings attached or conditions to be met. They do not judge. They listen to our heartaches, make us laugh with their antics, and wiggle their way firmly into our hearts. Don’t let anyone tell you that it wasn’t a great loss.
It’s hard to know when a beloved pet is ready to pass, and sometimes we wait too long. “Letting Go” is an excellent article by our shelter director, Dr. E.J. Finocchio, about knowing when it’s time.
What to Expect
There is no right or wrong way to grieve your companion. Each person experiences loss in his or her own way. Tears may be enough to then move on. Sometimes the tears may last for weeks or months. And sometimes one may feel a sort of numbness until grief is triggered by a reminder of your pet. There may be feelings of guilt that you didn’t see warning signs or that you held on too long. There may be feelings of denial that this hasn’t happened and it will all be a bad dream. There may be feelings of anger that this happened at all. There may be sleeplessness, loss of energy and appetite. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way. Seek out friends and family who are able and willing to hear how much you miss your companion and how the loss is affecting you. Sometimes being able to talk and express your grief helps you to let go of it. Trying to ignore your grief may result in lengthening your healing time. If people around you are unable to be supportive because they just don’t understand, seek out pet loss hotlines and pet loss support groups.
Many people find comfort in being able to hold a funeral or memorial service for their pet, in the same way that a funeral can provide closure for a human loss. Surrounded by just a few friends and family, you might share memories of your pet and express your feelings of love and loss. You might plant a tree or a flower bush over your companion’s burial site, or spread his ashes in his favorite spot in the garden. You might create a photo album or little decoupaged box to hold your pet’s collar or a snip of his fur. This kind of closure can be particularly important for a child so that he or she can express grief and understand that the pet’s loss is permanent. Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors, as well. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. The pet’s death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind caregivers of their own mortality.
Some people are able to resolve their grief by providing a home and love to a new animal as quickly as possible. For others, they need time to grieve for their lost pet before being able to open their hearts and homes to a new one. Listen to your own heart to know when you’re ready.
Pet Loss Support Hotlines
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (508) 839-7966 M-F 6 to 9pm
The ASPCA (877) 474-3310 Seven days a week
Websites That Offer Pet Loss Support
Reading for Children
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (Judith Viorst)
When a Pet Dies (Fred Rogers)
Reading for Adults
Goodbye My Friend: Your Aging Pet and a Final Act of Caring (Mary & Herb Montgomery)
Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die (Jon Katz)
Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet (Moira Allen)
Grieving the Death of a Pet (Betty Carmack)
When Only Love Remains: The Pain of Pet Loss (Emily Sturparyk)
When Your Pet Dies: How to Cope with Your Feelings (Jamie Quackenbush & Denise Graveline)
Blessing the Bridge (Rita Reynolds)
Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (Gary Kowalski)