Losing a Friend: Dealing With The Loss of a Pet

Losing a pet is hard. Just like many of you, Dr. Ruth MacPete has been there. MacPete, find her on Facebook or at www.drruthpetvet.com!

Cody was a goofy red Doberman who thought he was a cat. Considering he lived in a household full of cats, it is easy to see why he would think of himself as one of the felines. After all, they seemed to have the life; they had food out all day, could jump on tables and counters, sit on their parent’s laps, sleep on a pillow or under the covers, and never had to go out for a walk in the rain. So in spite of his huge size (90 lbs.), he would try to sit on our laps whenever he could and he would adopt the kittens we were fostering as though they were his own. Each litter of kittens I brought home was greeted with a big wet nose and maybe a lick or two. He willingly shared his bed with them and would sleep on the edge of his bed in order to not disturb them. However, being a dog had its perks. Cody hiked everywhere with us, taking trips to the mountains, beaches, and parks. He even had dog birthday parties with all his four-legged friends. Many would say Cody was a lucky dog, but looking back I know we were the lucky ones because Cody brought us so much unconditional love and joy. Cody was a loyal and caring companion; when we needed cheering, he made us laugh, when we needed comfort, he gave us reassuring kisses. He even made our foster kittens feel at home by playing hide-and-seek with them and sharing his food and bed. He was also a survivor who rebounded from knee surgery, recovered from being paralyzed from Wobbler Syndrome, and outlived cancer and surgery in his 14 years. He seemed indestructible so we were caught off guard and devastated when he became ill and this time didn't’ recover. Losing Cody was especially difficult for my husband who had him as a puppy in college and we still get teary eyed when we think of him not being in our life any longer.

While losing Cody was heartwrenching, we were fortunate to have the support of family, friends and my veterinary colleagues during this difficult time. Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy and everyone copes with loss differently. I share my story of losing Cody because it is important for people who lose their beloved pets to know that they are not alone and help and support are available. There are numerous pet loss websites and hotlines to help you cope with your grief. They all have trained professionals who understand what you are going through. Remember, you can also speak with your veterinarian, who understands the special bond shared between you and your pet.

Once the grieving period is over and you feel ready, think about opening your heart and home to another animal. How long it takes to get there varies from person to person and you’ll know when the time is right to bring another pet into your life. Though you can never replace your lost pet, animals have lots of love to share and they can help fill the void in your heart.


University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine C.A.R.E Helpline

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Support Hotline

Argus Institute: Colorado State University's Pet Loss & Hospice Programs

Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement

Pet Loss Website

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

10 Ways to Heal After Losing a Pet

How do you recover from losing a pet? These 10 expert tips will help you work through your loss…

Who’s your best friend? If you’re like many people, the answer is your pet. Pets are our companions, walking pals, sounding boards, even bedmates. They love us in good times and bad. They cheer us up, make us laugh and stick by our sides. That’s why losing a pet can be even more traumatic than losing a family member, and the grieving process is similar, psychologists say. “Pets provide us with so much love that the loss is almost more than what we'd experience losing a human loved one,” says Kristine Kevorkian, Ph.D., a Los Angeles end-of-life and grief counselor. “Acknowledging that loss and receiving help is vitally important to our mental, physical and spiritual well-being,” she adds. It can be difficult to heal, but resources exist to help you cope – from hotlines to support groups. Here are 10 tips to help you through the grief…

1.Take time to grieve.
Your pet may have been part of your family for a long time, so mourning may take time. Accept it. “No one else can tell you when it's time to move on or get over it,” says Frank J. Sileo, Ph.D., a licensed New Jersey psychologist who has worked with clients who have lost pets. “The grief process can't be forced or hurried along,” he says. “There is no set timetable for grieving.” Your grief may come in waves. You may begin to feel better, but then the grief may be triggered again, for example, “by hearing of someone else losing a pet, a name or a special day, such as your pet's birthday,” Sileo says. 2.Don’t try to hide or ignore sadness.
“Face your grief,” Sileo says. “When we deny it or put it on a shelf, we only delay the grief process.” Express it. “Cry, scream, pound a pillow, talk it out with someone,” he advises.

3.Accept feelings of guilt.
Do you feel guilty about your pet’s death? That’s common, says Janet Zimmerman, a Long Island, N.Y., licensed clinical social worker who offers pet loss counseling. “Almost all pet owners feel guilty – no matter what the cause of death – even though they love their pets and would have done anything for them,” she says. That’s because people feel responsible for their pets and blame themselves for their death, she says. “Know that logically, there was no more you could have done to keep them alive,” she says. 4.Get the right support.
You’re hurting, so whom do you turn to for comfort? Your best friends and close family members are probably your first choice. But don’t be surprised if they say, “It was just a cat. Get over it.” Or “You can always get another puppy.” They don’t mean to be thoughtless, but most people don’t understand the bond you had with your pet.

“If you lose a human family member, you can expect understanding and sympathy,” Zimmerman says. “If you lose a pet, people are often less caring and become impatient or dismissive.” Without someone to lean on, your grieving may be much harder. “People who lose their pets should be given every opportunity to express their pain,” adds Zimmerman, who started a counseling support program through Long Island Pet Loss Support Services in New York. So if you can’t get sympathy even from loved ones, where can you turn? “Check with your local animal hospital, veterinarian or veterinary medicine school for a pet loss support group or hotline,” Sileo advises. Or try these resources:

    • University of Pennsylvania hosts two pet grief support groups and offers individual and family counseling.
    • The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement offers a state-by-state list of pet bereavement support groups, live Internet chat rooms and hotlines.
  • Rainbow Bridge is a free online grief support community providing a forum, pet-loss sympathy e-cards, a list of pet-loss hotlines and other resources.

Need to talk to someone who understands what you’re feeling now? These pet loss hotlines may help:

  • ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline, 877-474-3310
  • Cornell University Pet Loss Support Hotline, 607-253-3932
  • Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline, 508-839-7966
  • University of California, Davis, Pet Loss Support Hotline, 800-565-1526

5.Put your feelings on paper.
Creating a journal or scrapbook can help you process your feelings, Sileo says. “Through journaling, you can reminisce and [express] unfiltered thoughts and feelings,” he says. “It can contain pictures of your pet, memories of special places you visited and other mementos.” It worked for Lisa Cohn and her 5-year-old son when the family lost its beloved dog, Lucy, from cancer. They used art and writing to deal with the loss. “We put together collages of Lucy,” says Cohn, a contributor for Dogster.com. “We wrote a book to keep Lucy alive in our hearts.” The idea was so successful that “whenever [my son] hears that someone lost a pet, he says, ‘Let's help them write a book,’” Cohn says.

Some people have created journals specifically for pet loss. The spiral-bound The Kingdom of Heart: A Pet Loss Journal by Patty L. Luckenbach (Spiritual Living Press) includes blank pages for photos, drawings and text. “The book will guide you as you struggle to find the right words and help you explore and express your feelings,” says Denver psychotherapist Anne Cattarello, who specializes in pet loss and bereavement counseling. “It also can [also help recovery] to write a letter to your beloved pet,” she says. “Express your feelings from the day the pet came into your life until she or he died.” Online services, such as ILovedMyPet.com, will let you post your feelings, photos and videos on a personalized website. Some services are free. 6.Hold a ceremony
Besides the journal, Cohn held a “Remembering Lucy” party. “Our friends came over and we all shared memories of her,” she says. Such rituals promote “feeling in control and can give a sense of mastery over tender emotions,” Zimmerman says.A ceremony can honor your bond with your pet.

“It is a way to express loss and disappointment, and to begin healing, and it will establish some closure for the bereaved,” says Donna Henes, a certified funeral celebrant with Tree of Life Funerals in New York. She has conducted ceremonies for pets, including a rabbit. If you have children, get them involved. “Encourage them to put messages of farewell or [mementos] into the burial box,” Henes advises. “Wrap the pet in a cherished blanket. Let the children decorate the box. Help them make a grave marker or plant a tree on the grave.” 7.Create a memorial.
When Sileo’s dog, Ozzie, died after a yearlong battle with bladder cancer, Sileo created a memorial from his cremated remains. Some parts of Ozzie’s hair were kept. “He now rests on top of the fireplace, with his picture close by,” Sileo says. Such a memorial — whether under a tree in your backyard, in a pet cemetery or on your mantel — is another way to honor and express your love for your pet. You can find garden stones, statues and jewelry to commemorate your pet at websites like Memories of You.

If you keep your pet’s ashes, you may want a pet urn, such as those made by Artisurn. Some are beautiful works of art suitable to display on a mantel others are biodegradable. Even if you didn’t keep your pet’s ashes, you may want to create a small place to memorialize your pet. Sileo suggests:

  • Set aside a special place for your items, such as your pet’s tags, urn, photos or collars.
  • Get a plaque made with a picture and name of your pet.
  • Light a candle near a picture of your pet. Plant a tree or flowers, such as forget-me-nots.
8.Move forward.
Memorials comfort at first, but if you find it keeps your grief too raw, put it away, Cattarello advises. “Your beloved companion’s memory will stay alive in your heart,” she says. “Part of grieving is about saying goodbye and learning to let go.” Eventually you’ll adjust to life without your companion. “You are not being disloyal to your pet by healing,” Cattarello says.

9.Volunteer at an animal shelter.
Miss your pet? “When you give love to a lonely shelter animal, you get love back hundredfold,” Sileo says. But if you can’t bear to be around other animals, that’s normal too, Zimmerman says. You’re just not ready yet. “Only the grieving person can gauge how she or he feels and whether or not they’re ready to interact with animals again,” Zimmerman says. “Some people cannot bear even seeing another person walking a dog or playing with a cat it’s like pouring salt on an open wound.” 10.Don’t rush to replace your pet.
Take your time before adopting a new pet, Sileo advises. “Even though your home is quiet and feels empty, it’s often best to wait,” he says. “We need time to work through grief and loss before building a new relationship with a new pet.” That’s especially true if your emotions are still in turmoil.

Watch the video: Pet Heaven, Saying Goodbye

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