Coping with the loss of your pet
Given the intense bond most of us share with our animals, it’s natural to feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a pet dies. While some people may not understand the depth of the feelings you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend. Instead, we hope this website will help you cope with your loss, provide you with comfort, and begin the process of moving on.
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Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…. Author Unknown
To have a pet is to sign up for near-inevitable sadness—we almost always outlive our beloved companions. Learning to live with loss is an essential part of life. It’s not easy, but to deny the pain is to deny that we live, that we love, and that we matter to each other.
- article by Larry Kay, award winning dog-book author
Honor your emotions
Your emotions are important. Dealing with the loss of a pet is a deeply personal experience. There is no “should” when a pet dies or has gone missing for so long that it is time to say goodbye. Many pet owners find comfort in envisioning a pet crossing the rainbow bridge to a paradise where pets enjoy a heavenly afterlife.
It’s a natural reaction while we are grieving to want to do something. And while there are things to do, it is also important to simply be with the reality and feelings. I invite you to pause from doing, and take a deep breath, and another, and sometimes one more. Take a moment to be with your feelings that honor your pet, your companion, your friend who lived a life of unconditional love and perhaps accepted you even more than you accepted yourself.
Honor your pet’s memory
As you carry on, remember those sounds, sights, smells, and touches. Remember all those habits and little adjustments you made for your pet, some of which you may still make unconsciously. Those are now places in your heart. Perhaps an honoring ceremony will help the grieving process, and ultimately help you to heal. You may want to make a scrapbook or a special box of memories with photographs, some writing, or special objects. Some find it helpful to create a special place of honor in or around the home.
Help a child cope with loss
The death or disappearance of a pet can be a child’s first exposure to the loss of a loved one. You may need to help your child sort through feelings. A child may blame herself for the pet’s death or disappearance, or she may feel shame for having emotions at school. Children need healthy guidance to make sense of the loss, to experience the emotions and process the pain in a healthy way, and to carry on with school and an ordinary routine rather than withdrawing from life. Like adults, some children also benefit from drawing, writing a story, or gathering mementos. Assume that a child needs a parent or trusted adult to guide that memorializing process.
Available at Compassionate Care Animal Hospital:
The Loss of Your Pet - This booklet covers the importance of the grieving process when healing from a loss, how to cope with grief, and moving forward.
I Remember: A Book about My Special Pet - This booklet provides guidance through the grieving process and allows family members to document important memories of your beloved companion.
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney - A book to help children through the grieving process. (available to check out)
When You Have to Say Goodbye, Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet - A book to help families cope with the process of saying goodbye. (available to check out)
Tufts Pet Loss Hotline - The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine features listings of hotlines, literature, and resources for children.
Coping with Pet Loss - An on-line guide to grieving the death of an animal family member.
ASPCA Pet Loss Support - (hotline: 1-877-474-3310) For support when coping with the loss of a pet, this program offers information on meeting the emotional needs of children at the time of a pet’s death, pet loss FAQs, and end-of-life care FAQs.
Michigan State University Pet Loss Support Group - Offers support for individuals and families to express their feelings and talk about their experiences.