We love our pets and consider them members of our family. So when a beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of our sorrow. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support and unconditional love during the time they share with us. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you’ve already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies.

UNDERSTANDING GRIEF Finding ways to cope with loss can bring us closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears. The grief process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person or years for another. The process may include denial, which offers protection until we can realize our loss.

We may try bargaining with a higher power, ourselves, or even our pet to restore life. We may feel anger, which may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including family, friends and veterinarians. We may also feel guilt about what we did or did not do, and may feel that it is inappropriate to be so upset. After these feelings subside, we may experience true sadness or grief. We may become withdrawn or depressed. Acceptance occurs when we accept the reality of our loss and remember our animal companion with decreasing sadness.

HONOR THY PET Gestures of remembrance, large or small, provide comfort by celebrating a pet’s life and the incredible power of the bond between humans and animals.

  • Reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
  • Hold a memorial service at a pet cemetery, in your backyard or in a place that was special to your pet. • Find a special urn for your pet’s ashes.
  • Create a living memorial by planting a tree, bush or flower bed in your yard. • Contact a community park to sponsor a bench or tree affixed with an acknowledgment plaque memorializing your pet.
  • Keep your pet’s favorite toy, collar, blanket or bowl as a symbol of your love. • Create a scrapbook or collage with photos and other reminders of your pet.
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter to help other pets and their people.
  • Write a poem or story about your pet or write a letter to him.

WHAT CAN I DO FOR MY CHILD? The loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death. The child may blame himself, his parents or the veterinarian for not saving the pet. And he may feel guilty, depressed and frightened that others he loves may be taken from him. Parents will know the best way to tell their children about the loss. We recommend that you explain that death is a natural part of life.

Tell your children that you are thankful for the time you had with your pet and that you will treasure the precious memories of happy times together. If your pet was injured or sick, explain to your children that your pet is no longer in pain and that you are happy for that. Children do best with simple, honest, straightforward answers to their questions.

SHOULD I GET ANOTHER PET? Rushing into this decision isn’t fair to you or your new pet. You’ll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership and paying close attention to your feelings. Even though a pet’s death is a trying time for your family, a valuable lesson about life can be learned. The grief will subside, but the happy memories will always remain.

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