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Grieving For A Beloved Pet

Updated on October 16, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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Grieving For A Pet Is Like Grieving For A Human Loved One

The strength and depth of the human-animal bond is probably never more evident than when we lose a pet. The process of grieving over a beloved pet can be every bit as intense as grieving over a lost relative or friend, and it generally involves the same phases: denial, anger, guilt and depression.

Whether by sudden, unexpected death, as in a car strike, because of declining health, or when we’ve made that heart-wrenching decision to end suffering, pet loss affects us profoundly.

Pet owners face another dimension of grief, which is the loss of a pet who escapes or disappears suddenly. Under those circumstances we seldom achieve closure; forever worrying about what happened.

Was he rescued into a loving home and a rich quality of life by a family that was grateful to find him, or did he fall victim to any number of unthinkable possibilities?

We try to comfort ourselves, and one another, with the prospect that the pet was taken into another loving home, but the other possibilities continually gnaw at our gut.

And every time we see an animal with similar markings or that exhibits similar behavior to our lost pet, our hopes soar, only to come crashing back to earth, usually taking another chunk of our heart with them.

A generation ago most pet owners were reluctant to display the grief they were experiencing for fear of being ridiculed.

And, of course, that only compounded the misery. Today, people are more inclined to openly grieve, which is usually helpful in dealing with their loss.

Another difficult scenario involves euthanasia. Although it can be the kindest thing you could do for a terminally ill or injured pet, the decision is so very difficult to arrive at.

And while it seems to be a terribly lonely decision, it need not be a solitary one.

Seeking the counsel of family, friends, your veterinarian or the clergy makes the decision a little easier to arrive at.

Often those individuals have the benefit of clearer thinking, similar personal experience, or the benefit of knowledge gained by knowing others faced with the same decision.

There are a number of factors to consider when facing such a decision: the pet's quality of life, his prognosis, or the emotional and financial burden of his condition on you and your family, to name a few.

There are times when the pet is healthy but has turned vicious or unmanageable. Some behaviors can be corrected with training and patience, or sometimes a suitable home can be found for such an animal. Sometimes they can't, and euthanasia is the only solution.

SAYING GOODBYE IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF A PET
SAYING GOODBYE IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF A PET | Source

When the decision has been made, most veterinarians will go out of their way to accommodate the wishes of the owner. Many owners insist on cradling the pet in their arms as he draws his final breath.

Others prefer a brief period of privacy to be with their pet and share final good-byes. That's probably the most intimate aspect of the entire process and there's no wrong preference.

We use the phrase "putting them to sleep" and there's a lot of validity to the term. Most veterinarians administer a tranquilizer to fully relax the animal before injecting a drug that will quickly, quietly and painlessly shut down the animal's vital functions.

And most veterinarians are prepared to arrange for the care of the remains, usually by burial or cremation.

Obviously the veterinarian plays a key role in the entire process, and considering the frequency with which they face this situation, one would think it gets pretty routine after a while. They'll be the first to tell you that it doesn't get easier.

Vets are the ultimate "animal people" and all the lives they improve or save can't fully compensate for the ones they must take, as the only humane choice.

Every such moment tests their composure and every one hurts. Sometimes they share tears with the family, sometimes with their staff, and often with only themselves.

A number of organizations offer support services or grief counseling to help pet owners through difficult times.

Some of them are university-based, with the phones handled by veterinary students; others were originated and are maintained by compassionate, dedicated lay people.

Many of the support groups rely on donations in order to keep operating and, indeed, a lot of people find comfort in making donations to worthy causes in memory of a beloved pet.

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We may lose our pets, but we'll never lose the memories we share. Until the day we die, we'll fondly recall funny, frustrating and even embarrassing episodes that our pets shared with us, and those memories will be like a salve.

Sometimes the healing begins with the acquisition of another pet, sometimes it's fulfilled that way.

And no matter which, the new pet never replaces the lost pet; but begins a new saga that will spawn new memories to last a lifetime.

For each pet we bring into our lives will forever have its own special place in our hearts.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg

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