For many people, losing a beloved pet can be as devastating as the death of a family member. Grief strikes when the animal that greeted us at the door after a long day of work or begged with doleful eyes for attention or tasty treats is no longer present in our daily lives. We love our companion animals—it is estimated about 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats live in American households. Forty-four percent of us own a dog. Fewer households keep cats, but most cat owners have more than one kitty around for company.
Dealing with a pet’s death may in some ways be more difficult than coping with the death of a person. Others may not comprehend the depth of the attachment for the pet. “So when are you going to get another dog?” or “I know a friend who has a litter of kittens…” are comments that can come on the heels of a death. Friends may not realize that a pet cockatoo, horse or rabbit was one-of-a-kind, never to be replaced.
What have we lost with the passing of a pet? Perhaps the most obvious component is the loss of truly unconditional love. Our beloved animal never judged us, never showed anger or irritation with our actions, but accepted and adored us at all times, warts and all. We’ve also lost a part of our personal history. Who else bore witness to our very personal struggles and triumphs, tears and laughter, rowdy celebrations and times of quiet solitude? Simply by being there for us, they shared in our highest highs and lowest lows. Our daily routine can change drastically, particularly if we’ve lost our only pet: no more walks to the park, early morning feedings, furry belly rubs or under-the-chin scratches. Facing an empty part of the bed or silent home at the end of the workday can at first seem unbearable.
Accompanying the grief may be a complex mix of emotions involving guilt, stress involving financial expenditures for end-of-life pet health care, and anger or resentment toward others or oneself. We question whether we did enough to keep our buddy healthy or did we inadvertently prolong the life of a suffering animal? We may feel despair over a simple mistake on our part or that of someone else that led to a terrible accidental death. Sometimes the current death brings up memories of past pets and we mourn the accumulated loss of all of our faithful friends. After a brief time of mourning a pet, society often requires us to put on a brave face and suppress what we are truly feeling. We are supposed to carry on with our normal daily existence while hiding tears for the beloved pet that has just taken a final trip across the “Rainbow Bridge.”
Any individual or company that supplies pet loss products or services realizes that rituals and memorialization can provide comfort to most people during the mourning process. Some folks may have the means and wish to honor a pet with a full ceremony, casket and burial in a special cemetery. Pet cremation is popular, with customized urns designed to store the remains, or the ashes may be scattered in a favorite location or contained in a garden ornament, or even converted to a piece of jewelry. Writing about a pet may be therapeutic—there are many websites available that allow grieving pet owners to upload a favorite photo and write a short tribute. Or, one can suggest to a customer or client that writing in a special journal about the animal may help to cope with the overwhelming grief.
Whether you are a veterinarian, grief counselor, or funeral director specializing in pet loss, a simple gesture on your part to reach out to the individual or families you serve assures them that their grief is recognized and validated. After a pet is euthanized, a vet’s office often mails a card or postcard expressing condolences. A death care professional may wish to send a small aftercare gift with a message that says, in essence, “You’ve lost something precious and irreplaceable. We understand the depth of that loss and we care.” There are products available that convey that sentiment, and allow you to add a personal note with your acknowledgments.
The loss of a dear family member is a traumatic event, whether it is a person or companion animal. Supplying comfort and emotional support during and after the death process is as important as offering a tangible service or product. There are many ways for compassionate providers to reach out to a pet owner going through a very difficult life event—by honoring and memorializing the life of a most faithful friend. FBA
Rick Gentry is the Manager of Operations at Lamcraft, Inc., based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He can be reached phone at 800-821-1333 or by email at [email protected] You may also visit their website at www.lamcraft.com.