Dealing With Pet Loss

You never get over losing a pet, you get through it.

Dealing With Pet Loss

Friday, March 25, 2016 | NHS Staff

When a person close to us dies, the loss is most often met with sympathy and comfort. We are allowed to grieve, cry and experience emotions. But talk to pet owners who have lost a pet and the story is different. Many will tell you that people don’t understand the depth of their grief. Some will even tell you that people have said “He was only a pet.”  But he wasn’t...he was a major influencer in your life, and the losses are profound.

The loss of unconditional love

Our pets provide us with unconditional devotion. Human relationships aren’t that simple; they can be riddled with anxiety about rejection and other fears that often dictate how we behave and what we share. Our pets don’t judge. They are all-accepting.

The loss of being needed

We are responsible for another life, and often go to great lengths to ensure our pet’s physical and emotional comfort. We plan our days around potty breaks, walks, enrichment times and feeding.  We offer up dog daycare, cat sitters, or playtime. We groom them, bathe them, and nurture them. They give us a sense of purpose. 

The loss of a “life witness”

Not only do our animals provide us with their uninhibited love, they also allow us to express parts of ourselves that we may never let other humans see. They observe our weaknesses, our victories, and move through years of our lives with us. During periods of upheaval, they often provide us with security, stability and comfort.

The loss of a primary companion

Because of the above, our pets might be our closest social companions. We may not have had any other close contacts, due perhaps to depression, anxiety, or a debilitating physical illness. We relied exclusively on our pet for support and love.

The loss of confidence

This is the primary stumbling block to a healthy grieving process. Did I do enough? Or “If only I…” Whether the pet died after a short or long struggle, many of us wonder if there were other procedures or treatments we could have done. If euthanasia was the course then some wonder if it was really the right time. If the death was untimely, we might be second guessing:  “I should have closed the screen door tighter so he couldn’t run into the street” or “I wish I had noticed her symptoms sooner, because she’d be alive today if I had.”

So how do I cope?

Be patient and kind to yourself. This is the first key to dealing with your grief effectively. Our losses are real, painful, and evoke a variety of feelings and memories. Any time you find yourself wishing you were “past” it, remind yourself that your emotional processing has no set endpoint. You’re in mourning and, by pressuring yourself, you only make yourself feel worse.

Find an ally: Find someone to talk to about your loss. Or try the Pet Loss Support Group which is held at the Nebraska Humane Society the first Saturday of every month at 10:30am. Facilitated by a counselor—these free of charge sessions allow you to talk with others going through similar emotions. 

Share your pet’s story: You can do this by writing down your thoughts and feelings or by sharing your pet’s story with us as a “tail of success.” 

Dispose of possessions gradually: Often, we encounter the food bowl, bed, or blankets and are unsure of what to do with them. The first step can be to move them to a different location. For instance, take the bed out of your bedroom. This helps the transition, and lets you move the items before you remove them. When you are ready, put your pet’s tag on your keychain. Donate the bed and toys to an animal organization, or someone else with a pet who will be able to use them.

Memorialize your pet: Do a tree planting or sow a garden. These can be living tributes that will continue as reminders for years to come. Here at NHS we also offer memorial bricks…that will live in our walkway as a permanent tribute.

If you are making end of life plans for your pet: Know that NHS also offers private cremation for beloved pets through our Rainbow Bridge Pet Cremation Services.  All proceeds stay at the shelter to support the animals here, so as you take care of your pet you also help countless others.

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