When pets die, a range of emotions take force. Not only do you have the grief, but often the guilt do. Furry friends rely on us for everything, right up to their moment of death. And so it’s you that makes the decision on what they eat, whether they are put to sleep, what vet you choose and sometimes even that you took them out one day, if they die in an accident. Although at-home euthanasia is always better, sometimes life simply does not work out as wished. The pain accompanying memories of an animal’s last moments (especially if due to misdiagnosis) can be overwhelming for the sensitive soul.
How to cope when pets die is one of life’s great mysteries. Anyone who is an empath and loves animals as much (or more) than humans, knows that the death of a much-loved animal friend can hurt as much. What makes it sometimes even more difficult is that mainstream society does not comprehend, why it hurts so much. There is nothing worse than a do-gooder saying ”it was only a pet’.
You can’t really do much, but let time let things calm down a bit. You may not lose the grief, but hopefully the shock will heal. Animals are evolved souls of unconditional love, and will forgive you (even if you can’t forgive yourself). In Buddhism, they say that accepting the pain (rather than trying to make it go away) can help. Depending on your faith, you could try prayer or simply meditating on a peaceful transition. A little send-off ritual can help. You could have a little prayer service at home (or perform it in your dog’s favourite park, forest or beach). If people don’t understand your grief, pity those who have such little empathy. Blue Cross offers tips on how to humanely euthanise horses.
Plant a memorial tree. There are charities that will plant trees in forests, if you don’t have room in your garden. If using your garden, see make your garden safe for pets to know which toxic plants to avoid near living pets (many fruit pips & seeds are toxic to pets, yew & oak are toxic to horses)
Pet Loss Bereavement Counselling
- Blue Cross offers free support by phone or email.
- Paws to Listen also offers a sympathetic ear
- EASE Support has recordings from a Pet Bereavement Specialist
- Supportline offers help by phone, for anyone with shock or grief
- Pet Bereavement Services is a company run by a vet nurse, trained in pet bereavement counselling. She offers remote services (and a free download to help children deal with pet loss).
- The Ralph Site lists pet bereavement counsellors nationwide
- Ally For All (South West) offers help, this service is run by National Animal Welfare Trust
- Chance’s Spot helps shelter & shelter staff deal with trauma of seeing so many ill & injured pets. Vets also have to deal with guilt, putting animals to sleep each day. The founder is an animal chaplain and pet loss counsellor.
- Blue Cross & The Blackford Centre for Pet Bereavement offer courses to become a pet bereavement counsellor. An ideal job if you are kind, and would like to work from home or remotely.
Should You Get Another Pet?
Sometimes it’s good to adopt or foster immediately, others not so. You have to make the decision whether you are ready, and whether other pets would be happy with new pets so soon. There is a poem somewhere from a dog in Heaven, who asks his guardian to adopt again, as the best legacy is to give another animal the same love, as your furry friend in Heaven.
Some pets left behind may prefer another animal around, it depends. Some older people prefer not to adopt again. You could get a free Dog’s Trust Canine Card that enables them to find homes on your death, by contacting a nominated guardian. It also helps to keep a codicil with your Will, on who you have nominated to look after your dog. National Animal Welfare Trust (South West) offers a similar card. Or you may wish to become a volunteer dog walker.
If you have other pets, keep a routine as those left behind will be mourning too. You howling in a corner is not going to help. Cry quietly, then go out in nature, and grieve peacefully together.
Books to Help You Cope with Pet Loss
- The Invisible Leash illustrates the spiritual connection between pet guardians and humans. After Zach’s dog dies, his friend Emily tries to comfort him with the news that there remains ‘an invisible leash’ around our hearts, connecting to pets in Heaven.
- Will I See My Dog In Heaven? is a gift book by Father Jack Wintz, a Franciscan monk (which means he has spent years studying the works of St Francis of Assisi, the Catholic patron saint of animals) to answer this question. He also writes gift books for cats and a children’s version). He has hopeful things to say.
- The Divine Life of Animals is a Biblical study by Ptolemy Tompkins, who takes us on a 20,000 year journey to ask if animals have souls. This readable (if scientific) book paints a picture of a gloriously inclusive cosmos.
- Will I See My Dog In Heaven? is a gift book by Franciscan Br Jack (he also writes book about cats and for children). He has hopeful things to say, for people who need comfort after losing animal friends.