For many people, the dogs and cats in the household are part of the family. Because of the relatively short life spans of pets, at some point, almost all pet owners must make some difficult decisions and then deal with the loss of a pet. Unfortunately, society often isn’t understanding about the feelings of grief people experience when a pet dies. Clichés and sometimes unhelpful advice may make the grieving process more difficult than it has to be. If you viewed your pet as a friend, it’s not fair for people to judge your feelings and say “he was just a dog.” The reality is that it’s not stupid for you to miss your pet, and you aren’t being a “sentimental fool” for grieving for your lost pet.
The decision to euthanize a pet may also complicate the grieving process. When a pet is suffering or unlikely to recover, euthanasia is often decided upon to end a pet’s pain. Although this decision is difficult, people need to recognize that sometimes this is the kindest thing we can do for our pets in the final stages of their lives. Sometimes understanding more about the process of euthanasia can make the decision less painful. Talk to your veterinarian about what is involved. Some vets will come out to your home, which may be less stressful for you and the pet. Some people may feel they need to be with the pet during the final moments; some do not. Either way, you shouldn’t feel guilty for all the things you “should have done.”
After your pet is gone, realize that there will be a gap in your life. Some people think they “hear” their pet in the yard or at the door or have dreams about their lost pet. Grief is a process that can be very difficult to work through. It takes time. Especially if you have kids, be sure to talk about their feelings. Kids deserve time to accept the loss too, so don’t rush out and get another pet. That can give the impression that the pet that died wasn’t special. Of course, it’s a lot easier to write about this topic than to experience it. There’s no way to really completely prepare yourself for the loss of a treasured friend. Intellectually, we all know that dogs and cats generally only live about 15 years at the most, yet I know that no matter how much I may prepare myself, when the inevitable happens and one of my pets dies, I’ll be a basket case.
Editor’s Note: A few months after I wrote this, one of my cats became extremely sick and we had to have the vet come out and euthanize her. I WAS a basket case and I still miss my kitty a LOT.