Grieving the Loss of a Pet
Often, the loss of a loved pet is like losing a family member. They were loved and they brought love and joy. They brought comfort when a person was feeling down. They were someone to talk to, sharing joys and disappointments
The pet could be a source of entertainment. Whether chasing after a ball, swatting at a toy or trilling a melodic song, they brought happiness. Sometimes a pet may have a unique trait that always brings a smile to its owner. Some such traits might include circling three times before settling down, or hanging upside down on a trapeze and whistling, running non-stop on the wheel, or leaping to the top of the refrigerator to survey the room. It made life much more pleasurable and fun.
When a stranger approaches the front door, many times a pet hears the sound way before the owner. What a great security system! A dog may bark. A cat may run and hide or a bird may ruffle its feathers. No matter what, the pet may be alerting the owner to something unexpected.. Even with advance notice, it doesn’t give the owner much time to scramble to pick up, get dressed or hide! Missing that early notice leaves a void that is hard to fill.
Whether the pet dies from old age, an accident or even a tragedy, the pet is sorely missed. Glances to the places in the house that they frequented bring a longing. Finding a toy that rolled behind a cabinet brings a pang to the heart. Putting away, or selling their bed, cage or toys can be painfully hard.
For a child, the loss of a pet can be a significant, traumatic event. Not only has the pet been a constant companion, but a key persona in the child’s world. For children, their world begins with family, pets, neighbors and friends and classroom affiliates. It’s a small world. So the loss of the pet plays a larger role in the child’s life as opposed to that of an adult. As an adult helps a child cope with the loss, it can often help a child formulate their thinking about life and death. In talking to a child, be honest. Use comfort and compassion. Ask a child what they would like to do to honor the loss pet---then listen and be prepared to help carry out their wishes if it’s reasonable. There is an excellent website called KidsHealth.org that has good tips and suggestions for the parent(s)/caregiver to help a child cope with the loss of a pet. Another option is a book called “When Your Pet Dies” by Victoria Ryan. It’s a good story plus discussion leads.
I wouldn’t recommend getting a new pet right away. Each pet has their own personality and it would be natural to compare the new animal to the deceased pet. Rather than replace, allow yourself time to grieve, to miss their companionship and to maybe even find a way to fondly remember them. Frame a picture, get a yard marker, or write about them. Find a way to heal through a grieving process for your beloved pet.