The death of a companion animal is one of life’s most difficult experiences—and finding the support needed to guide us through our loss isn’t always easy. It’s important to understand that grieving is a normal and natural way to process loss. In this article, we will discuss the grieving process and offer some helpful advice to help you get through this painful time.
The Five Stages of Grief
In the 1960s, psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed a way to codify the emotional process of grieving. She identified five steps in the grief process that have become part of the cultural vernacular—denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Whether the loss we experience is that of a beloved person or a companion animal, the way we process our sadness usually follows these basic steps.
At first we may find it hard to address the problem at all. We may leave our pet’s bed and food bowls out, or even believe we hear the familiar jangle of their collar or tags. No, these are not signs of a breakdown, but simply the way we process a seemingly overwhelming loss. Next we may feel: perhaps if we had done some something differently, our pet might still be with us. Some become angry—at ourselves, at a deity, at the disease or accident that took our pet. These feelings are also normal, and they should be experienced rather than suppressed. We may sink into depression, and as long as it does not cause us to cease caring for ourselves and others, this too is a natural part of grief. At last, often after weeks or months, comes a sense of acceptance—a time when we can look back on the happy memories of our pets with a smile instead of tears. These are all powerful emotions—from guilt and anger, to sorrow and hopelessness—and can at times seem overwhelming. It’s important to let yourself feel and process these emotions as they arise.
You Are Not Alone
It may feel at times that no one understands the pain you are feeling, but you are not alone. Many understand this special form of loss and stand eager to help you carry the burden until it becomes light enough to manage on your own. The Humane Society of the United States offers some helpful suggestions on ways to cope with the loss of a beloved pet (adapted from the HSUS web page):
Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
Reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
Write about your feelings (perhaps in a journal, poem, essay, or story).
Prepare a memorial for your pet.
Pet Loss Resources and Support Groups
The loss of a pet is never easy, but you are not alone! There are a number of resources and organizations ready and waiting to help you through this difficult time. Space permits the listing of only a few national organizations. With a little online research, you can locate more in your area. Also, ask your veterinarian about groups near you.
ASPCA Grief Counseling Hotline (877-GRIEF-10)
IAMS Pet Loss Support (888-332-7738)
C.A.R.E. Pet Loss Helpline (877-394-CARE)
When to Consider Welcoming a New Pet
The adoption of a new pet after a loss is a very personal decision that differs from person to person. No animal can replace the companion you lost; and only you will know for certain when you are able to open your heart to a new companion animal. Chances are, that when the time is right, you’ll know. Remember that there are shelters throughout the nation, and likely in your area, where pets are awaiting a safe and loving home.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.