A Pet is
a Family Member Too
A pet is a member
of the family. The term “man’s best friend” brings to mind unconditional
love, constant companionship and acceptance. And Why Shouldn’t it?
Your pet can take you for a walk, listen when you need someone to
talk to or even guard your house. A pet can also lower your blood
pressure, change your heart rate or alleviate feelings of chronic
loneliness. With this capacity to love your pet, comes the necessity
to grieve when that “best friend” dies. The death of a pet is, without
a doubt, a traumatic experience.
A Pet’s Death
No, it’s not
“just a dog” or just a cat”. The animal is a family member. With
the death of a pet the family experiences a very great loss. A difficult
problem, however, is that society often denies you the need to grieve
for your pet. You may even be chastised for openly and honestly
expressing your feelings. As a result, you may bury, hide or even
try to ignore your grief. This is not good, grief should be expressed.
Although denied understanding and support, your family needs to
grieve the death of your pet. Grieving means to express your feelings,
no matter how painful, outside of yourselves.
Help You Heal
Your family will
probably be greeted with many clichés when your pet dies. Clichés
are trite comments intended to diminish the loss by providing simple
solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “It was just a
dog,” or “You can always get another one.” Or “Be glad you don’t
have to take care of him anymore” are not constructive. Instead
they hurt and make your family’s journey through grief more difficult.
are Very Helpful
one of the best legacies after the death of a pet. Talk about and
embrace these memories. Your pet entertained, comforted, frustrated
and always loved you. Remember those times. If your memories bring
laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry. Remember, though, memories
made in love can never be taken away.
Will Be Very Mixed
When your pet
dies, you will probably experience a variety of emotions: confusion,
disorganization, sadness, explosive emotions or guilt. Don’t repress
these feelings and ignore anyone who tells you that you should.
Don’t over-analyze your response. Just allow your feelings to find
expression. As strange as some of these feelings may seem, they
are normal and healthy. Each Family member probably had a unique
relationship with the pet. Allow for different emotional responses
within the family, and be careful to respect each person’s need
to grieve in his or her own way.
When you love
your pet, no question is more difficult than whether or not to euthanize.
Yet this difficult choice is often the right one, particularly if
your pet is in agonizing pain or the quality of life has deteriorated.
Talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia. Fortunately, humane
procedures can end needless suffering for both you and your pet.
The intravenous drug used for euthanasia does not cause pain. After
visiting with your vet, make your decision based on your own good
judgment. If you have always treated your pet with gentleness and
love, you will make a wise choice based upon reality. Some owners
want to be present when their pets are euthanized. Some do not.
Do what you feel is right for you and the family. Whichever choice
you make, you may still want to spend some special time saying “good-bye”
to your pet.
encouraging your family to have a funeral for the pet can be helpful.
It provides a time to acknowledge the loss, share memories of the
pet and create a focus for the family to openly express emotions.
While some friends or even family members may think having a funeral
for your pet is foolish, don’t let them take this special time away.
Design a ritual that best meets your needs as you gather to pay
tribute to your pet who was and always ill be loved.
Need to be Involved
The death of
a pet is often the first opportunity parents have to help children
during times of grief. Unfortunately, parents often don’t want to
talk about the death assuming that by doing so the children will
be spared some of the pain and sadness. Children, however, are entitled
to grieve for their pets. Any child old enough to love is old enough
to grieve. Many children love their pets with all their hearts.
To them their pet is their “best friend”. They need to grieve
Replacement Can Cause Problems
after the death of a pet may be to run out and get another one right
away. In fact, you are often encouraged by family and friends. Although
it may sound like a good idea, you should be careful about premature
replacement. You need some time to grieve and to heal when your
pet dies. A new pet demands your energy and attention which at some
point you may be ready and willing to give. Right now, however,
you should first attend to your grief. Be especially careful about
premature replacement of pets with children. It sends a message
to a child that says when something is lost all that you have to
do is buy another one. In reality, that is often not the case. It
also devalues the significance of the pet that just died. While
there is no specific timetable for when to get a new pet, when in
doubt - wait. Allow an additional healing to occur. When the family
is ready for a new pet, involve the children in the discussion and
selection. You will know when it is time for another pet. Follow