I never realized how many dogs would touch my heart until I became a pet photographer. I only meet each pet briefly, but they become extremely special to me for a lifetime. Over the years, I have been sent many emergency requests to photograph terminally ill or aging senior pets. I will drop anything and rearrange my schedule to accommodate such requests. Knowing the unbearable pain of losing a pet, I can deeply empathize with what the family is going through and it is my goal to help ease their sorrow and celebrate their pet’s life and bond with them.
I know we will all meet again someday. “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
Coping with the Death of Your Pet
When a person you love dies, it’s natural to feel sorrow, express grief, and expect friends and family to provide understanding and comfort. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t always hold true if the one who died was your companion animal. Many consider grieving inappropriate for someone who has lost “just a pet.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. People love their pets and consider them members of their family. Caregivers celebrate their pets’ birthdays, confide in their animals, and carry pictures of them in their wallets. So when your beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you’ve already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies.
Understanding how you grieve and finding ways to cope with your loss can bring you closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears.
What Is the Grief Process?
The grief process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person or years for another. The process typically begins with denial, which offers protection until individuals can realize their loss. Some caregivers may try bargaining with a higher power, themselves, or even their pet to restore life. Some feel anger, which may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including family, friends, and veterinarians. Caregivers may also feel guilt about what they did or did not do, and may feel that it is inappropriate to be so upset. After these feelings subside, caregivers may experience true sadness or grief. They may become withdrawn or depressed. Acceptance occurs when they accept the reality of their loss and remember their animal companion with decreasing sadness. Remember, not everyone follows these classic stages of grief—some may skip or repeat a stage, or experience the stages in a different order.
How Can I Cope with My Grief?
While grief is a personal experience, you need not face loss alone. Many forms of support are available, including pet bereavement counseling services, pet-loss support hotlines, local or online Internet bereavement groups, books, videos, and magazine articles. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem.
Call your local humane society to see whether it offers a pet loss support group or can refer you to one. You may also want to ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter about available pet loss hotlines.
Explore the Internet for pet loss support groups and coping information.
Prepare a memorial for your pet.
Will My Other Pets Grieve?
Surviving pets may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased pet. Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. Give surviving pets lots of TLC (“tender loving care”) and try to maintain a normal routine. It’s good for them and for you.
Should I get another pet?
Rushing into this decision isn’t fair to you or your new pet. Each animal has his own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You’ll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership, and paying close attention to your feelings. When you are ready, remember that your local animal shelter is a great place to find your next special friend.
A Message Home from the Rainbow Bridge | Author Unknown
I stood by your bed last night, I came to have a peep.
I could see that you were crying, You found it hard to sleep.
I whined to you softly as you brushed away a tear
“It’s me, I haven’t left you, I’m well, I’m fine, I’m here.”
I was close to you at breakfast, I watched you pour the tea you were thinking of the many times, your hands reached down to me.
I was with you at the shops today, Your arms were getting sore.
I longed to take your parcels, I wish I could do more.
I was with you at my grave today, You tend it with such care.
I want to reassure you, that I’m not lying there.
I walked with you towards the house, as you fumbled for your key.
I gently put my paw on you, I smiled and said “it’s me.”
You looked so very tired, and sank into a chair.
I tried so hard to let you know, that I was standing there.
It’s possible for me, to be so near you everyday.
To say to you with certainty, “I never went away.”
You sat there very quietly, then smiled, I think you knew in the stillness of that evening, I was very close to you.
The day is over… smile and watch you yawning and say “goodnight, God bless, I’ll see you in the morning.”
And when the time is right for you to cross the brief divide,
I’ll rush across to greet you and we’ll stand, side by side.
I have so many things to show you, there is so much for you to see.
Be patient, live your journey out…then come home to be with me.