Grieving Pet Loss

Our Dog Quilla's Story

Our Personal Loss

My family recently suffered through the loss of one of our dogs. Quilla, our cairn terrier mix was a member of this family for 13 of her wonderful 16 years of life. This was the first time my wife and two daughters have ever been through something like this. Quilla fulfilled many different roles in our family. She was a caretaker to my girls and other dogs. She was a companion and a playmate. Quilla was a loyal friend. Her loss created a void in our family. This article will highlight some of the feelings you may share with us while grieving the loss of a pet. We will also discuss some tips to help your family begin the healing process. Read Quilla’s Story by clicking her photo or here.

The Role of the Family Pet

Our pets fulfill certain roles in your lives. They love us unconditionally, which can make their loss very hard to accept. We develop a bond with our dogs and cats that can’t be explained to non-pet lovers. They may not appreciate or understand our loss. So when we lose a pet, we need to find a healthy way to cope with not only the loss of our companion, but also loss of our shared bond.

A simple search on Google for “grieving pet loss” resulted in over 75 million results. That is because all of us as pet owners will at some point have to deal with this. It is a sad reality that our dogs and cats live much shorter lives than we do, so you may be faced with this ordeal several times in your life.

Stages of Grieving

  1. Guilt – you may feel responsible for your pet’s death. This makes resolving your grief more difficult.
  2. Shock or Denial – you will feel stunned. This is normal and actually helps you get through the first weeks. Many deal with loss through denial. Closing or sealing away your real feelings. It is okay to verbalize or cry. Don’t bottle up your feelings because this will only add more stress.
  3. Anger – you may find yourself directing anger toward your family, friends, vet or even yourself. You will feel less angry by opening up and talking to the people around you.
  4. Depression – usually all of the above stages lead to depression. You will feel emptiness, regret, hopelessness and sadness. This is often the longest stage. Feeling depressed may cause you to dwell on the sorrow.

Acceptance and Healing

Eventually you will accept what has happened. You will recall the great times you shared with your pet. You will cherish your memories. You will begin to heal.

Steps Toward Healing
Once you accept and recognize how much that pet meant to you, the healing process begins. You’ll celebrate their life and the happiness they gave you. Follow these helpful steps:

  • Give yourself permission to grieve
  • Accept that your pet meant a lot to you
  • Place a plaque, picture or memorial to your pet somewhere
  • Surround yourself with positive friends and family or people who have a similar experience
  • Be healthy – eat, exercise and treat yourself right
  • Recognize you will relapse, but realize you will get through it
  • Lean on your family and provide them comfort too

Helping Your Children Cope

Children are very resilient and often heal first. However, this may be their first encounter with death. You know your family better than anyone, but these are some tips that helped us cope:

  • Be honest about the circumstances. They probably have fears and misconceptions about death. Sit them down and talk to them openly. Don’t tell them the pet “ran away” because they will always be waiting for them to come home.
  • Explain what the terms mean. You “put your dog to sleep” may have a different meaning to children. Tell them about euthanasia and explain that your pet’s suffering and pain will end.
  • Show sorrow. It’s alright to let them know you feel the pain too.
  • Have short discussions often about your loss.
  • Teens often share the same feelings as adults. Be there for them, because it takes a while to get though this loss together.
  • Listen to what your family has to say. Share the loss together and talk about all of the good times and playful behavior your pet showed.
  • A friend at work gave me a poem Rainbows Bridge to read to my kids. It put the loss in a different perspective.

I hope this article helps you cope with the loss of a pet. Nobody can take away the pain, but these tips will help you get through it. Your companion will always live on in your memory.

Four Things that Helped the Most

  1. I talked with the loving staff at our pet shelter in Falmouth – The Friends of Falmouth Dogs. They have encountered loss many times and can provide helpful advise that is very touching and meaningful!
  2. We talked with our vet. South Cape Vet here on Cape Cod has a wonderful staff. They helped us as a family, every step of the way.
  3. We looked at old pictures together. This helped guide the discussion for us on coping with loss, and reminded us about all the great memories.
  4. I wrote this blog! Writing seems to help me sort out my thoughts. I’ve opened up this blog for comments, so feel free to tell your story. Write what is on your mind! It helped me and I hope it can help you too!