For many people, losing a beloved animal companion is as heart-wrenching as losing a human loved one. Here are some resources to help you through the grief.
“Gone” is the word I was afraid to say out loud the week our dog, Bruiser, passed away. Overwhelmed by grief, and in need of finding ways to cope, I started doing some research on pet loss and was impressed and inspired by how many resources I found. From support groups to grief counselors to death doulas, there are a variety of places and people to turn to for help and comfort when you’re mourning the loss of your dog or cat.
Your grief support system
Everyone’s support system will look different, depending on your beliefs, needs, and comfort levels. Along with sympathetic friends and family members, your support system might also include one or more of the following: your veterinarian, an animal communicator, a chaplain or pastor, a grief counselor or support group, a Reiki practitioner or other energy worker, or a death doula (an individual who assists in the dying process, similar to how a midwife helps with birthing). There are grief counselors who work with vet hospitals and emergency vet clinics, and who are trained in “death and dying” as well as grief coping strategies. Online assistance also abounds in the form of pet loss forums, websites, chat rooms, Facebook groups, and more.
When it comes to family and friends, just keep in mind that some may not comprehend the connection you had with your dog or cat, and might not get why you’re so upset; comments such as “It was just a dog” or “You can always get another pet” will only add to your pain. If you feel any of your friends of family members won’t be understanding or sympathetic about your loss, don’t include them in your grief support system.
Bruiser, a stubborn miniature Dachshund, was my partner in crime, and I wanted to honor him. In my case, because I’m not religious, a pastor wasn’t going to be part of my support system. Instead, I found a death doula and several pet grief counselors who helped me cope. I also joined a pet loss support group at our local veterinary emergency hospital, led by a trained grief counselor.
Planning ahead can help make things easier
If you know your dog or cat is moving into the end-of-life stage, it’s a good idea to have some plans in place before he passes. “You might want to have phone numbers, references, and other information ready ahead of time, such as pricing for euthanasia, cremation, after-hour services, and in-home veterinary services,” says Ute Luppertz, a death doula in Portland, Oregon. Researching animal grief counselors and having them lined up for a call will help as well when the time comes. In fact, part of the job for animal grief counselors and death doulas is to offer some ideas and suggestions to dog and cat parents dealing with end-of-life care for their animals.
Calling your vet should also be on the list, even if your animal passes at home, as he or she can provide you with resources to help with your grief. If you originally adopted your animal from a local shelter or rescue, they may have resources to assist you too. Some areas even have pet cemeteries where you can have your dog or cat buried, if you wish. We adopted one of our own dogs from the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, and their cemetery is a beautiful place to visit.
5 ways to memorialize your dog or cat
Memorializing your beloved animal companion can help give you comfort and a sense of closure. These rituals and activities can be as simple or as detailed as you wish. Here are just five ideas:
- A simple picture of your dog or cat, surrounded by candles, is something you can see and enjoy every day.
- A small party with friends, family, and special animal caretakers is a good way to celebrate your animal’s life and share happy memories.
- This is my favorite – a letter to your dog or cat telling him how much you love him and that you’ll always remember him.
- If you have your dog or cat cremated, consider adding some of his ashes to a piece of jewelry. Quite a few companies now offer these services.
- Journaling about the animal’s life, and including all your adventures together, is a wonderful way to remember him – I often refer to the “Pet Remembrance Journal” that I filled up in the days and weeks after Bruiser passed. A scrapbook with photos, artwork, quotes, and thoughts is another alternative.
At our home, I have wind chimes hanging on both the front and back porches as a reminder of Bruiser. They feature Dachshund and bone motifs in beautiful colors.
We share a close bond with our dogs and cats, so it’s only natural to grieve when they’re gone. Honor the process, take comfort from knowing that there are a lot of resources to help you through your sorrow, and reach out for help if and when you need it. Also be sure to take as much time as you need to accept your loss, even if it takes 12 months or more. Bruiser passed away over a year ago, and we still talk about him all the time. We focus on his life, and not his death.