Our pets are valued and cherished family members. A pet’s love is unconditional and pure, and that kind of bond is unique and precious. It can take longer, and be harder, to recover from the death of a beloved pet than you might have expected.
The grief you feel upon the death of a pet is real, it is nothing to be ashamed of, and it deserves support and respect. There are many resources available to you such as local support groups, hotlines, individual counselling, books, and phone support.
- Some people feel embarrassed by the extent of their grief or are told "it's only an animal" by others. Feelings of hurt and loss for a familiar presence are completely normal whether it is for a human or animal. Those that have not been lucky enough to have the love and companionship of a special pet may not understand your grief, so ignore any insensitive comments. Many of us will understand.
- Talk to others, particularly pet owners about how you feel. It does help to talk, whether to a friend, family member or if needed, a counsellor.
- Keep active. If you no longer have your canine companion to walk, keep walking, but go with a friend and vary the route.
- Celebrate your pet's life. This is whatever is right for you, from planting a tree to holding a funeral. To scattering your pet’s ashes in their favourite place in your garden.
The passing of a pet can be very upsetting for children. A pet may have been with them as long as they can remember, and it will be the first time they experience the loss of what they see as part of their family.
- Don't try and cover up the loss of a pet or diminish what it means. Telling a child their pet has 'gone to live on a farm' or has run away may make the loss worse by adding a sense of abandonment and confusion. Understanding death, and grieving that loss is an important part of a child's development and can help them understand what it means to lose a relative when the time comes.
- Don't immediately replace the pet. This sends a message that an animal is disposable and replaceable.
- Encourage children to create something to remember their pet by. This could be a picture of a favourite time spent with their pet or planting some flowers in the animal's memory.
- Don't trivialise the loss yourself or joke about it in front of your children. Even if you didn't share their attachment, making light of such an event sends a message that pets are not worthy of our respect.
- If children wish to have a funeral or other ceremony to mark the passing of a pet, let them do so. This doesn't need to be a full church service, just some time taken and a few words to mark the event can help children work through their feelings.
The passing of a special pet affects us all differently. Seniors on their own for example, may find the loss particularly hard to cope with and the support of family and neighbours becomes especially important. Acknowledging the loss of another's pet and being respectful of their feelings will help and is appreciated.
To learn more about grief and loss, click here.
For a list of counsellors, go here.