Family mourning loss of a pet

COPING WITH THE LOSS OF A PET

01/16/14

There’s no question that pets can bring a lot of joy into our lives. It’s also true that at some point, there’s going to be some sorrow.  It’s a sad fact that the lifespan of our pets is much shorter than our own, which means that every pet owner will eventually experience the loss of a pet and a beloved companion.  “It’s important to remember that moving through loss is a process,” says Debbie Stoewen, Pets Plus Us’ Care and Empathy Officer. “Grieving happens over time—it can’t be hurried.”

Often, we’re in the difficult position of making the decision about when to end a sick or frail pet’s life.  A pet may be lost through an accident or serious illness. Some cats and dogs simply pass away from old age. No matter how it happens, when a pet dies, it is a loss just like any other. Remember—it’s perfectly normal to feel sadness and to grieve. Sometimes people are embarrassed by the depth of their reactions, believing they should be able to move on more quickly. Don’t let that kind of thinking take over—you’re entitled to your feelings. When you have lived with an animal and cared for it, you develop an incredible bond. It’s important to honour that relationship and take the time you need to heal.

Unfortunately, most employers don’t offer time off to care for a sick pet or to mourn the loss of a cat or dog, so you’ll need to do some planning on your own. If your pet is ill, find out what kind of schedule adjustments your workplace can offer. You may be able to use flextime to work longer on some days so you can leave early on others. It might be possible to work from home, making care for your sick pet easier. You may also be able to plan some time off in advance, if you know the time is coming that you will need to be away for a few days.

For children, the loss of a pet may be the first time they encounter death. As hard as it is when a dog or cat passes away, it can teach important lessons about grieving and letting go.

Some parents feel the need to shield children from the truth by pretending the animal ran away or “went to sleep.” But avoiding the facts can leave children confused and frightened, and doesn’t allow them to truly grieve the loss.

“Honesty really is the best policy when discussing the loss of a pet,” says Dr. Debbie. “Making up stories doesn’t help children and can lead to all kinds of magical thinking and false hopes.”

She recommends using age-appropriate language, and if possible, talking about the impending loss of the pet prior to ‘the goodbye.’ “This can help the child get prepared, both emotionally and psychologically,” says Dr. Debbie.

Everyone will deal with the loss of a pet in their own way. Dr. Debbie offers some tips for coping with grief that may work for you. 

However you choose to deal with the loss of a pet, remember that grief is the normal, natural process of adjusting to the loss of a loved one.