When you welcome a pet into your home to care for and love, they truly become a member of the family. The bond that we share with our pets can be very fulfilling as they turn from a furry four-legged creature into our trusted companions and friends. We go out of our way to make them feel comfortable and they, in turn, comfort us. Given this connection that we develop with our pets, it stands to reason that coping with the loss of one can be a very difficult time in our lives.
I have recently gone through this experience myself. The other week, we had to put our cat Fitz to sleep. He was not doing well and was going to require a level of specialized care that we were not willing to put him through as we felt it would only prolong his suffering, without a guaranteed recovery. My family opted for humane euthanasia. Just writing that is very difficult, but I think it is important to discuss.
Admittedly, the loss of a pet is different from the loss of a person, but it is still important to properly grieve. Some people may not recognize the attachment that we have to our animals (“It’s just a cat/dog, what’s the big deal?”), but as I’ve said before, they become a member of our family regardless of whether or not others appreciate that. I am lucky in the fact that I work here at Snelgrove Vet, because I am surrounded by a fantastic group of very supportive friends that understand that bond.
To cope with the loss of a pet, it may seem like a good strategy to get just rid of anything that reminds you of them, and simply move on. But this is not a very good approach, and it ultimately diminishes and trivializes the relationship that was once shared. Instead, it is important to cherish the memories that we have of our pets, even if they are no longer with us. Understandably, this may be difficult, but it is a necessary step in coming to terms with death. Additionally, you should not ignore or suppress your feelings of sadness. A family member is no longer a part of your household, it is only natural to be upset by this.
Another way to handle the loss is to commemorate your pet in some way. Some people choose to have a pawprint (painted clay impression of your pet’s paw) made. Others take their pets home for burial, or choose a private cremation and keep the remains in a special urn. Still others create scrapbooks and keep pictures around, or even have their pets memorialized with a tattoo.
Whatever you choose to do, it is important to understand that grieving is a complicated process that takes time. It is sad, it is painful. Surround yourself with love and support, appreciate the time you had with your pet, and deal with your emotions head-on. Remember that your pet was an important part of your life, and just because they are no longer with you does not mean that they are gone.