Saying Goodbye: Coping with Pet Loss
You Are Not Alone
The loss of a beloved animal companion is never easy. Our furry friends are viewed as members of our families, and when a pet dies, it can affect us much in the same way as losing a human friend or family member. Grieving is a normal and unavoidable reaction to a loss, but it is also a response that is often misunderstood, if not minimized by others. Grief is a normal psychological response that warrants expression and acknowledgment.
The Stages of Grief
Everyone experiences the loss of their companion animal in their personal way; understanding the stages of grief can help tremendously.
The natural first reaction to the news that your pet has died or is about to die. You simply don’t want to believe your pet is gone.
The reaction commonly following denial that results out of the frustration you are experiencing. During this time, you may want to discuss your feelings with your veterinarian. Often, a heartfelt and thorough conversation can help ease your pain.
To offset the feeling of being responsible for your pet’s accident or illness, or to get over the “if only I had been/done more…” syndrome, you make bargains, like promising to spend more time with your pet, hoping they will stay with you a little longer.
A natural consequence of guilt, associated with feelings of overwhelming sadness and regret. You may feel confused and unable to concentrate on everyday tasks. Extreme depression causes not only a lack of motivation and energy but an incessant focus only on sorrow.
You feel more comfortable with the loss and understand the importance of communicating your feelings.
Talking to Children About Pet Loss
When a family pet dies, it may be your child’s first experience with death. How you choose to explain the situation may lay the foundation for your child’s view of death.
Answer Questions Honestly
Children may have questions about sickness and euthanasia. Telling a child their pet was “put to sleep” or “put down” may create confusion about it means to sleep or rest. It is preferable to explain euthanasia in more concrete terms, by describing it as a procedure veterinarians perform to help animals die peacefully.
Talk Openly About Your Feelings
If your children do not see you sad or upset, they may believe their own sorrow is unnatural. Balance the grief with moments of laughter. Share happy stories and memories.
Finding ways to memorialize your pets by celebrating their life can help fill the void after they’re gone. Here are some ideas:
Local Support Groups
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria 4101 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, VA, 703-746-4774 alexandriaanimals.org
Fairfax County Animal Shelter 4500 West Ox Road, Fairfax, VA 703-830-1100 fairfaxcounty.gov/animalshelter
Frederick County Humane Society 217 West Partrick Street, Frederick, MD 301-694-8300 fchs.org
LOCAL GRIEF COUNSELORS
Carol Hendler 3200 N. Leisure World Blvd. #719 Silver Spring, MD 301-996-0801 firstname.lastname@example.org
Robyn Zeiger 10300 Sweetbriar Parkway, Silver Spring, MD 301-445-7333 email@example.com
HELPFUL READING MATERIALS
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst
Coping with the Loss of a Pet: A Gentle Guide for All Who Love a Pet, by Moira Anderson
Forever Friends: Resolving Grief After the Loss of a Beloved Animal, by Joan Coleman