To some, losing a pet is like losing the car keys; to others, it is like losing a child or a sibling. When we get a pet dog or cat, we know right away that the animal most likely will not live as long as we will, and at some point, we will have to deal with the loss. At the time our loved animal arrives, we are only thinking about how cute he or she is, how much fun it is to play with them, and how we will get the animal trained to not pee in the house.
As time goes on, we take our animal on trips, we take our dog to the beach to play fetch, and we grow to love our animals. As the years go past, we get older and so does the pet we have grown to love. It might happen suddenly, through some illness or injury, or it might be gradual, through the process of aging. But the odds are likely that a loving pet owner will have to deal with the loss of their best friend and loyal and devoted companion.
The Pain of a Lost Pet
Why does losing a pet hurt so badly? We have this idea in society that animals are not our equals, and when we lose one it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, that a pet’s loss is an accepted fact of having one. But we do grieve over the loss. We think about the times we spent with our animal that gave us so much unconditional love.
It is okay to grieve that loss. Yes, people who don’t understand the bond a pet owner can have might scoff or roll their eyes at our grief. So, find someone who will be there for you. Find a close friend, a loved one, a family member, or someone you know who has also gone through the loss of a cherished pet. Sometimes it can be good to be alone to deal with the loss as well, crying in the shower or just taking a day off of work to look at treasured pictures. But try not to dwell on the loss. When spending time with friends or family, discuss other matters, and remember that it will get better.
Depression and Sorrow
It is natural to feel depressed during times of grief. Much has been written over the years on depression, the causes, and how to deal with it. It is okay to feel depressed over the loss of a loved animal. But know that as time goes on, the depression will go away, and so will the sorrow. Just like the loss of love in any relationship, time heals.
Be conscious of the depression. Sorrow can prevent people from going to work, spending time with others, and in many depression is as debilitating as any other illness. Depression can cause loss of appetite or interfere with work. If we feel that we can’t get away from the sorrow or deal with the loss, we should talk to someone. If need be, see a therapist or counselor who is sympathetic to the loss of a pet. Find a support group. But, try not to be alone for too long. Loneliness is depression’s partner in crime, and it will only feed the sorrow.
Do we blame ourselves in some way? Was the gate left open, and the dog ran away? Did we not recognize that illness sooner? Guilt will eat away at us if we let it. The past is past, and life can’t be re-done. Don’t blame yourself for the loss and don’t blame others. Nothing can be done about it now, so we have to accept it. It is possible that what happened might have been preventable, or maybe nothing could have been done. Guilt can make us better people, but it has to be accepted, learned from, and let go.
There can also be guilt weeks after a pet’s death when we realize we are less sorrowful over the loss. This is normal as it is our ability to move on after the death of a loved one that makes us human. Just because the sorrow has decreased doesn’t mean the memories will go away as well, or our love for our family friend.
Regret can also eat away at our emotions. We might think about how we always wanted to take our dog on “that hike” that we never got around to. Or a video of how the dog always rolled around to scratch his or her back. We can regret that time we left the cat at home for a couple of days by itself. Or we can regret not spending more time with our animal.
Instead of regret, know that feeling so sad at the loss of the animal means we did spend time with it. We might have taken the dog on another hike that was just as fun or to the beach all those times. Remember the times when the cat curled up on our laps when we were feeling sad about something. Don’t think about the times not spent with our pets, think about the times we did spend with them.
In The End
An unfortunate fact of life is every living thing must die at some point. If we feel grief at the loss of a pet, accept it as real emotion and do what needs to be done. If we need to yell, cry, break things, or just be alone then do whatever needs to be done. Reach out to friends or find a sympathetic therapist. Accept that the sorrow of the loss of a pet is real and justifiable and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
It will get better over time and eventually we will be able to look at those old pictures without getting tears in our eyes or that lump in our stomach.