- Death & Loss of Life
Mourning the Passing of a Pet
When Your Pet Dies
Death of a pet can be a traumatic experience. Not only is it a loss of an animal that has been a member of your family, but the fact that pets themselves cannot express pain or grief makes it doubly hard. We may be able to sense when a pet is not doing well. But, to think about what they may be feeling at life's end is beyond our comprehension. And I do believe that pets, like us, know when the end is near.
For example, cats tend to wander away before they die. They do not wish to end their lives nearby those who love them, or within close distance of their home. I always thought this was a bit strange. But when we adopted a sickly kitten during my teenage years, and that poor animal only lived one week, it was heartbreakingly true.
One of my sisters desired a white kitten. We found one at the Humane Society, that we named "Coconut." That poor pet only lived about eight days in our care. After three days, she stopped eating. Then, we took her to the vet, where they fed her intravenously for another three days. Eventually, fate was in God's hands. We brought the weak kitten home and I willed her to live. Hand-feeding her for hours on end, I couldn't believe that her health wouldn't eventually improve. Sadly, one of the nights that I slept with the small kitten, she moved to the end of the bed, instead of snuggling close with me. In the morning, she was stiff and cold. What a hard lesson at 15 years of age!
Sharing Stories After Your Pet Passes Away
Not less than about 18 months later, tragedy struck our family again with the loss of another beloved pet. For my youngest sister's 10th birthday, we adopted a calico kitten, young and sweet. My mom placed the little cat in a basket and presented her to my sister, who had been wishing on a star for several years for her own pet. The kitten was named "Taffy" and was probably the dearest cat I've ever known. Taffy allowed us to dress her up in bonnets and put her, back down, in baby buggies, as if she was a doll. At night, she slept with her paw draped lovingly over my sister's shoulder in an enduring embrace. Taffy was the essence of sweetness. Eight months later, she had a litter of kittens, all of which were equally dear and loving, like their mother.
About a month after we had given the last kitten away, Taffy met a tragic end. She was struck overnight by a car driving down our quiet, suburban road. In the morning, we called for her and she didn't come. My mother found her across the street, lying peacefully on the neighbor's lawn. It was, and still is, one of the most heartbreaking memories of my life. I recall, as if it was yesterday, my sister sobbing and begging to hold her cat one more time, as my father slipped her into a bag and buried her behind the hydrangea bush in our backyard. Years later, in high school, my sister would still write about the loss of her dear pet. I wonder if she ever really completely recovered.
Grieving the Loss of a Beloved Pet
Notwithstanding these two initial losses, I was caught off-guard with the depth of grief I would suffer when my own childhood pet passed away. I was only five years old when my favorite uncle gave me my first pet, a cat, that I named Stripey (he was a tabby cat). Oh my goodness, did I adore that pet of mine! Stripey slept with me every night through elementary, middle school and high school. He was a mutt of a cat, blended with regular American Shorthair and Siamese backgrounds. The Siamese heredity made Stripey extra "talkative," which was actually endearing. He would seem to ask me, "how are you?" when he entered my room each day with a little purrr-up! If I wanted sleep, or was deep in study, I had to close the door to my room. Stripey didn't give up, though. I can still recall his little gray paw coming through under the door in an effort to reach me - his mistress and deepest love.
When I went away to college, things were never the same. My mom told me that Stripey wandered around the house, yowling and looking for me. Of course, I didn't know this at the time. She related these stories after he passed away. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of my dear cat and our lost nights together.
One sad day, my mother called me at work to tell me of Stripey's passing. I was working as a bookkeeper at one of Seattle's finance district restaurants at the time. I recall sobbing and not being able to continue the day after receiving the news. To make matters worse, I found out the truth of Stripey's demise a day or two later. He had not passed peacefully in his sleep, as I had hoped, but had been mauled by a neighbor's dog. A year or two earlier, Stripey would have escaped those vicious jowls. But he was too old and weak to run away that time. I was 20 years old, but I felt as if I was 7. Time is a strange phenomenon in the wells of sadness.
Sadness When a Pet Dies
Almost 20 years later, I'm still waiting to find another cat like Stripey. I had one, briefly, about 8 years ago. Another adoptee from the Humane Society, Pockets was a loving cat that hugged you when you picked him up. I fell hard and fast for that boy. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Within days of our adopting the cat, he stopped eating. We rushed him to a veterinary hospital where they performed a blood transfusion and other very expensive procedures. Nearly $2000 later, the vet called and said that Pockets's prognosis was pretty grim. I really couldn't pull the plug. I asked them to run the tests and then call my husband instead of me. But somehow the message was lost in the shuffle. Two hours later, the vet called and asked me for permission to put Pockets to sleep. It was too much to bear. I sobbed and said it was OK to proceed, but in reality, it was as if I was losing Stripey, Taffy and Coconut all over again.
Helpful Books for Your Grief
Have you Lost a Great Pet?
Since Pockets passed away, we have lost two more cats that have run away. They may still be alive, enjoying cat chow on someone else's porch. In many ways, it is much easier to deal with this loss than to see our pets suffer and die. One of our cats that escaped a shed during a thunderstorm in 2006 is living as a farm cat on my in-laws' farm. Because she was never interested in being an indoor pet, I am happy to hear that she is doing well and surviving.
I'm sure that there are calloused people that believe that a pet's passing or loss is but the circle of life, and not to be mourned. But pets own a special place in our hearts - more than regular animals, but maybe a little less than other humans in our lives. No wonder we find their death such a traumatic experience. The steps of grieving the loss of a pet should be respected and recognized as a significant passage in our lives.
If you have loved and lost a pet, I wish you peace in accepting the sadness of your pet's passing. Every owner's experience is unique, and one pet cannot readily be replaced with a new one. Hopefully, you will find some solace in the knowledge that your pet sensed your strong connection during its life. Hold tight to the memories and know that your love for your pet was a special experience.
I would love to read your stories of special pets in your life below! Please post a comment.... thank you!
© 2008 Stephanie Hicks