Coping With the Death of a Pet
By Wayne A. English
The short lives of our pets give us a great deal of happiness--they
actually become members of the family. Many pets more than "pay" their
way into our lives, sometimes even saving our lives. For those people
who are shut in, their pet can mean all the difference between a life
of loneliness and days spent with a friend. For most of the rest of us,
pets are just good folks and dear friends that we like to have around.
Even though we adults know our pets' lives must eventually come to an
end, that does not make their passing any easier to bear. For some
people, the loss of a pet can be more devastating than the loss of
friend or family member because of what the pet represents. They might
consider Fluffy to be their "child" or the innocent child in all of us.
They might consider Fido to be a playmate and fast friend, or even an
ideal mate, always faithful and accepting. Pets are always glad to see
you and want to be with no one else but you. All these things, and
more, make a person's relationship with a pet as valuable as that with
any human. And so, the grieving for a lost pet can be considered no
different from that of grieving the loss of a human.
Should your pet be debilitated, hurt, or in pain, you may feel the only
humane thing is to have it euthanized. Euthanasia is the induction of a
painless death and can be taken care of by your veterinarian. Be
prepared for the fact that this might make you feel like you are on an
emotional roller coaster.
It may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:
What is the quality of your pet's life?
Is your pet in pain?
Do you want to do this alone or bring a friend along?
Do you need time to recover before considering another pet?
Can the veterinarian store the body for later burial or do you want to have it cremated?
Speak to your veterinarian and choose the course of action that will bring you the least regret after the pet is gone.
Getting Through the Grief
If you are grieving the loss of a pet, your grief may be compounded by
the lack of response you get from other people because they do not
appreciate your loss. If this happens, keep in mind that you do not
need anyone's approval to mourn for your pet--and you do not need to
justify your feelings to anyone. Do not fault persons who are not
sensitive to your plight; not everyone is able to find the
companionship, love, and affection in a relationship with a pet. To
connect with others who are "pet people" like yourself, speak to your
veterinarian, a veterinary technician, or another pet owner. Ask then
for a referral to a pet bereavement councilor. Online visit
http://www.BarclayandEve.com or do a Google (http://www.google.com)
search on "pet grief."
Children do not have an adult's maturity and to lose a pet can be
devastating because they do not understand what happened to their
friend. In dealing with a child's grief, never belittle or humiliate
them for feeling sad by saying, "It was only a fish" or "We're better
off now" or "Now we don't have to feed it." This can be very hurtful.
This is one time that your child needs you. You do not want to be seen
as part of the problem--as someone who is hard, unfeeling, and callous.
Be kind and loving.
Tell the child that their pet has died, that it is dead. Do not fear
the "d" word. You can say that the pet's body has stopped working. It
no longer breathes; its heart no longer beats; the eyes don't see; the
ears don't hear; it does not have to eat or drink; it no longer has to
"go to the bathroom"; that the pet no longer feels anything at all. Let
the child know that the pet's spirit had left its body and has gone to
a safe, beautiful place, which is often called heaven. You can explain
that this is something like a butterfly leaving the cocoon in that the
cocoon is left behind.
Make sure to tell your child that it is okay to be sad. Tell her that
one of the ways people comfort each other is to get together to share
stories and memories. We adults call this a wake. You can help your
child deal with the pain simply by talking about the pet and the things
the pet did, both good and bad. In fact, some of the bad things might
be the best stories of all. They will certainly be the most memorable.
Telling stories can be an excellent way to deal with the situation for
adults and children alike. Also, you can also have the child make a
drawing or look at photographs when the pet is discussed with friends
If you have chosen the option of euthanasia, tell the child that the
pet is no longer suffering and that helping the pet die peacefully was
the kindest thing to do. Cremation can be explained by telling the
child that the pet's body was placed in a machine and turned into
ashes, which are grey and look like sand. Reinforce the thought that
the pet's spirit has gone to a safe, beautiful place.
In short, be kind and supportive, keeping in mind that your child has lost, and is mourning the loss of, a dear friend.
For more information see the Web site of Karen Carney, RN, MSW, LCSW,
at http://BarklayandEve.com or www.dragonflypublishing.net. Karen is a
grief councilor and author of numerous books on the subject. She is the
Bereavement Program Director at the D'Esopo Resource Center in
Wethersfield, Connecticut, and can be reached at (860) 563-5677 or by
email at: BarklayandEve@aol.com.
As Carney so aptly says, "We can get through anything with the love and support of family and friends."
About the Author
Wayne's material has been published in The Futurist magazine; Smart
Computing; Intercom, the magazine for the Society of Technical
Communication; Link-Up and others. He can be reached at