Part 3 in our 5-part series on pet loss
- Part 1: How to Emotionally Prepare for the Death of a Pet
- Part 2: Helping Family Members Grieve the Death of a Pet
After the death of a pet, it’s normal to experience emotions related to the process of grieving, such as guilt, denial, anger, and depression.
It’s important to be honest about how you feel, and allow yourself to grieve and remember your pet.
Rather than attempting to immediately put the loss behind you and “move on,” decide one next step you will take:
- Find someone who understands pet loss to talk with about how you miss your beloved pet.
- Be kind to yourself as you move through the grieving process.
- Plan a way to celebrate your pet’s life (Parts 4 and 5 in this series will discuss this topic in more depth).
- Take time to adjust to the loss of your pet.
- Remember your pet through memories.
Part of the adjustment process may include a shift in identity, away from “the person who walked Max every morning” to a former pet parent. This adjustment is an important part of active mourning and healing.
Pet Loss Support Groups
One way to find someone who understands and can help you learn to cope and share pet loss experiences is to connect with a pet loss support group. Many cities have organizations that offer support services in person, online, or over the telephone.
Support for pet loss includes more than emergency health and end-of-life care for pets. Pet parents may seek guidance as they work through the process of losing the companionship of a dear pet.
These groups are often facilitated by other pet parents who have mourned the loss of their pet and are now offering the support they received to others who are now grieving their pet.
Compassion 4 Paws offers a list of pet loss support groups in the Seattle area, as well as information about coping with and grieving the loss of a pet. Resources include a list of books to read to children about the loss of a pet.
The following sites include resources for our local area:
- Pet Loss Hotline, with 24/7 grief support
- Pet Loss Support Groups in Seattle and Bellevue
- Support groups, counselors, memorial services, cemeteries/crematories
Some pet loss support resources may suggest planning a celebration of your pet’s life. This can provide a way to savor fond memories of your pet and serve as reassurance of the bond you shared.
Celebrating Your Pet’s Life
You will always hold your (former) pet close to your heart. The key is honoring the memory of your pet who has passed, not just moving on to the next pet.
There are several ways you can honor and celebrate a beloved pet’s life.
Memorial Service or Ceremony
Some people have a memorial service or ceremony and invite those who were close to the pet. Photographs and sharing memories are an important part of such services.
As part of a ceremony, or separately, pet parents may choose to create an outdoor memorial. Options include planting a tree, a bush, or flowers in your pet’s honor. If space allows, some pet parents choose a physical memorial, such as a stone or small structure. A combination of natural elements may be used to form a memorial garden.
Another option is to frame a photo or create a photo album and display it indoors to enjoy your fond memories of the pet.
Celebrate the life of a beloved pet by donating (money and/or time) to rescue organizations for specific breeds or to any society that helps animals. An alternative is to donate supplies such as food, treats, toys, and blankets to an organization that helps animals.
It’s also possible to celebrate and honor a pet’s life in other tangible ways. If you can sew, write, paint, or draw, you might create a quilt, children’s book, or other art about your pet—or have someone else create a piece for you.
If you don’t feel very artistic, create a memory box with a few keepsake mementos.
Business owners may choose to incorporate their pet’s name or other qualities in some product or aspect of their business.
Offer Support to Others
As part of celebrating your pet’s life, you may choose to follow some of the suggestions offered here to reach out to other pet parents. You may be ready to offer support to others who are experiencing pet loss. You may choose to donate time to an animal shelter.
Preparing to Adopt a New Pet
Losing a beloved pet is one of the most traumatic events one can experience. It is so hard that many who suffer the loss swear they will never own a pet again. They feel guilty or as if they’re being disloyal to their pet who died if they consider adopting a new pet.
But the human heart has an amazing capacity to love. It can and does expand to love another pet if it is given time to grieve.
Many pet parents say that after some time passes, the wrenching grief diminishes and the cherished memories rise to the forefront. When that happens, be assured that you are past the hardest part of dealing with your loss, and your heart is preparing to receive another pet if you choose to have one.
When you adopt a new pet, you are not “replacing” your pet who passed. No pet can “replace” another.
Rather, view the experience of adopting a new pet as a way to honor your pet who has passed. Choose to form a loving bond in this new relationship because you are ready to move forward as a pet parent.
Your new pet will have a different personality. A different name. You will teach each other new things. It will be unique, just as you are unique. Your new pet will deserve to be loved for itself.
A lot of animals need homes.
Having a new life to care for gets you out of your depression and gives you purpose again. It helps you snap out of your grief more quickly by giving a home to a pet who needs one and by caring for this new pet who will become equally loved in time.