Losing a Pet Family Member

Unconditional love. We all seek to find it in our human relationships. Where we often find it is with our pets, whether furry, feathered or scaled.

This is why we find it almost unbearable when our pet passes away. Our pet family members mark the passage of time and memories. We all remember the first day we met, the trials of getting to know each other and developing routines, the replacing of chewed items from teething or boredom, potty training (agghhh!), and the countless road trips to the beach, mountains, parks, vets, groomers and pet stores. So many of us spend more time with our pets than our extended families! This is why saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we ever have to do.

When the time comes to say goodbye to our pet, all these memories and emotions attached to them come flooding back to us, sometimes rendering us incapable of carrying through with simple daily tasks. Grief is grief – it makes no difference whether it’s human or pet loss, it hurts. If you are facing this decision in the near future, have recently experienced a loss or know someone else facing this difficult time, keep these suggestions in mind:

  1. Allow yourself time to grieve. There is no magic number of days for this process.
  2. Stay centered around those who understand the human-pet connection or have experienced this type of loss with their own beloved pet.
  3. Indulge yourself in what brings you comfort: long walks, good books, a movie or Netflix binge, mashed potatoes or chocolate ice cream – whatever brings you comfort. Be good to yourself. (I am a big fan of exercise of any type to produce healing endorphins.)
  4. If you continue to struggle, don’t be afraid to reach out to a support group with others going through a loss. Sometimes we exhaust those who love us most and may be going through their own grief in a different way. A support group is a way to share some of what you are experiencing and perhaps by helping another, find healing.
  5. It’s best if you give yourself a little time before seeking out another pet companion. Our expectations are so high after we have lost “the perfect dog or cat.” We want what we have lost. This may bring disappointment for both the human seeking an adoptable pet, as well as the unsuspecting pet that has no idea they are expected to act like “Max,” the greatest dog or cat to walk this earth. We never love the same way twice.
  6. Each pet enriches our lives in different ways. When the time is right, be ready and open to the joy a new pet can bring to your life. It is priceless and, once experienced, is hard to live without. Sometimes there is guilt in the adoption of another pet. Our pets want one thing from us and one thing only – to make us happy. Adopting another pet is a wonderful way to honor the pet you have lost. Allowing yourself to love again takes tremendous courage, but, in the end, LOVE is worth the risk.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Suess

By Leslie Reid,  Pet Pilgrimage Pet Crematory & Memorials