Here are some of the common questions we see about pet loss.
The death of a beloved pet...
The bond we form with our pets is unique and personal and so is the grief we feel when they die. All of us experience and cope with loss just a little differently.
We can experience a wide range of emotional and physical states: shock, sorrow, anger, fatigue, guilt, insomnia, loss of appetite, and loneliness. Others may feel simply empty. All of these things are normal. What’s important is that you allow yourself to grieve as much or as little as you need and for as long as you need.
Talk with others. Share your precious memories. Seek support from family, friends, and caring people. Finally, the day will come when thoughts of your beloved pet will only bring you smiles.
But suppose my pet didn't die...
The Pet Loss Support Hotline is available not only for people facing decisions regarding euthanasia and death of their pet. Any situation where you find yourself separated from your pet can be a devastating one. The Hotline can be a resource for those who are forced to give up their companion animal for any number of reasons: relocation, allergies, financial constraints, etc. Occasionally, animals stray from their home, never to return to their original family. What makes these experiences so sad are the lingering questions and lack of closure. You are left wondering:
Is my pet safe?
Is someone caring for my pet?
Will my pet ever return to me?
Did I do the right thing?
Volunteers at the Hotline (508-839-7966) can help you work through these and many other unanswered questions.
How do I tell my children?
Children grieve very differently than adults. A child’s perception of death varies as a function of age, level of maturity, and personal experience. Understanding the level of emotional and cognitive development that your child possesses will better enable you to explain what it means when a pet dies or leaves home for whatever reason. Using statements such as "put to sleep" or "passed on" have very different meanings for children and we suggest that you avoid these confusing euphemisms.
To help your child understand the permanence of death and the grief involved with the loss, keep the following suggestions in mind:
Always be honest with your child.
Encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings.
Allow yourself to be honest with your own feelings.
Alert your child’s teacher or daycare provider as to the recent family sadness.
Read a book with your child that addresses pet loss.
Allow your child to grieve with the family. Show them, by example, that it is appropriate to be sad and cry.
Emphasize the fact that nobody is to blame for the death/loss of your pet. Children tend to think in concrete terms and often wonder if they are somehow responsible.
If possible, give children an opportunity to say goodbye. This will allow for a sense of closure.
When hope is not enough...
Although our hope would be for our animal companions to live a long, healthy life and die curled up in a peaceful sleep, illness or injury may instead cut short the time you always expected to have together. Often we are faced with the heartbreaking decision of choosing the time, place, and method of our pet's death when it becomes clear that they are suffering or when other needs predominate. Choosing to end the life of your pet can be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. Thinking about saying goodbye and the subsequent loss is sometimes so painful that you are unable to make any decision at all.
You don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Get help from your veterinarian, pet loss counselors, and others who have gone through similar experiences. There are no right answers: just do what feels right for you.
Do animals grieve?
We may never know if animals feel the loss of other animals the same way we do. However, it is clear by their actions that they do respond to the absence of their companions. You may see changes in their eating and sleeping habits, they might appear depressed, or may constantly search for their missing friend. Many will need time and extra attention from loving owners to adjust to their new life. While we may not know the depth of their grief, we can help them get through the experience as they also help us.