Coping with the Loss of a Pet

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pet
©Africa images via Canva.com

In today’s world, where there tends to be a steady barrage of negative discourse and routine disagreements, I think most would agree that losing a pet is just downright hard. Whether it’s a dog, cat, ferret, fish, or another pet friend, the loss proves to be pretty universal, as many can relate to the pain, angst, and despair that can ensue and the deep void that can seemingly swallow the pet owner’s life and elicit an array and roller coaster of emotions.

Pets enrich our lives in so many ways just by being near us; they can make us laugh, spur our smiles, make us feel heard and seen, and ultimately, profoundly enhance our mental and emotional health. We spend quality time playing with them, doing daily life with them, exercising with them, traveling with them, celebrating holidays, and various other events with them. The human-animal bond is undoubtedly special and filled with unconditional love and reciprocity, so it is no wonder why it is so very, very hard when we lose a pet.

Pet owners know their animal friends have shorter lifespans than humans, which is never easy to embrace. But we still welcome them into our lives anyway because we choose to revel in the time we have with them and truly appreciate the unique way they impact our lives.

Personally, I had no clue just how much I could truly fall in love with a pet until I had my first dog as an adult: my sweet Havanese, Mojo. Losing Mojo unexpectedly this past winter crushed us. We enjoyed nearly 12 wonderful years with him, but it seemed way too short. I don’t think he’ll ever leave our minds and hearts, and I prefer it that way, as he was one-of-a-kind.

According to a College of Health and Medicine article entitled, “Grieving the loss of a pet: A qualitative systematic review,” studies show that the reaction and emotions encompassed with losing a pet can synonymously mirror the grief of a human loved one; undeniably, the feelings of grief and loss of a pet family member or companion align with those that accompany the death of a human. Some workplaces even allow sick time for an employee’s loss of a pet; what a very telling inclusion.

We know that life is short, and we need to truly appreciate each day and our time with our loved ones, whether human or animal. Here are some tips that hopefully help out anyone who unfortunately loses a family pet or pet companion:

Lean into the pain; use social support.

Whether it is relying on your faith, family, and/or friends, be sure to recognize that your pain is real and justified and take solace in how, in many ways, this pain and sadness illuminates to you just how important your pet was to you. Smile at the time you shared and their impact on you (and equally, the impact you made on their sweet animal life). When I was crying to a friend about losing Mojo, she empathetically noted to me how it’s good that the loss of our animal friends touches humans; it is good to stay sad and remember them every day. It keeps them with us. So lean on your support system, as they also probably know the depth of your pain and how to help you get through; sometimes, the only way out is through, and it is best to do it alongside family and friends.

Make a memorial.

Perhaps, when you are ready, creating a memorial or tribute to your lost loved pet would help ease the pain. Pictures and other memorabilia showcasing your loving pet might help you find comfort and a newfound daily joy in honoring them. My whole life I have been teased about taking too many pictures, but let me tell you that seeing pictures every day in my house of Mojo (from when he was a brand new pup to his aging days), and having them on display with his engraved nameplate and memorial, really provides me comfort. I still cry, but in the tears, a sincere reflection and appreciation invigorates me.

Write notes or letters to your deceased pet.

So this might sound a bit much, right? But by writing down our thoughts and feelings, it makes us feel heard and validated. We feel peace and comfort when we write down our thoughts. If we write a letter to our fur babies expressing what they meant to us and what they will always mean to us, it helps us become stronger and hopefully move more smoothly through the grieving process. I like to tell Mojo in letters that he was an amazing chapter in my book, and I LOVE how, to him, we were his entire book. My 11-year-old son still talks about Mojo daily; it is so touching.

Volunteer your time or items.

Some people are just meant to have animals in their lives, and perhaps if you are not ready to adopt or purchase another pet of your own, you can volunteer your time to a pet charity or shelter. And if it’s too painful actually to volunteer and be around other animals, perhaps you can donate pet toys or supplies to a charity or shelter; there are always so many animals in need.

Add another pet to your family.

It does not mean you are replacing your sweet furry friend if you add another animal to your family. Your heart is big enough to love other animals. You will never forget what you lost and how that loss made you feel. Personally, after losing our beloved Mojo, I walked the same routes I did with him, just holding his leash and remembering him and his energy. Now, I sometimes take our new puppies on the same routes, and I would like to think Mojo would be happy, smiling, and jumping around with excitement if he saw us. We call it our “Puppy-palooza,” as we now have three sweet and crazy Havanese pups; we had not planned on it, and it just kind of happened. It could honestly be a whole other blog but we are moving on and healing in the way that we find works for us.

Seek professional help if needed.

Professionals are available if you sense you are truly drowning and unable to cope. Support groups also exist, as well as hotlines and other counseling options.

Remember, if you have lost a pet and are suffering, you are not alone. Universally, most can relate to the pain and heartache of losing a pet; you can get through it, and you will get through it. Never forget that your sweet animal family member only wanted you to be happy…and to make you happy.

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