Grieving the Loss of Your Pet
The death of a pet is never an easy time. Whether it is an older animal, who may have been a part of the family longer than most of the furniture and some of the children, or a pet who has been with you for only a few years, the loss can be truly traumatic. And if the end comes through a conscious decision for euthanasia, other emotions become entangled with the basic sense of loss. Once it’s over, you may prefer to think that the experience is behind you. Unfortunately, it is not.
There will be an empty place in your household and in your life for a while, and for the first part of that “while” the hole may seem huge. Even though there are ways to fill the void, the loss you’ve experienced isn’t something you can simply ignore by assuming that your world will adjust itself. Instead, you must deal with it, just as you would deal with the loss of any good friend. You cannot expect yourself to think of your pet as a friend and then to dismiss those feelings as disposable because this friend happened to be an animal. It is not silly to miss your pet, and it is not overly sentimental to grieve. Nevertheless, he was a pet not a person, and that makes it more complicated to sort out exactly what it is you’re supposed to do and feel.
Another difference lies in the always complicated question of “what happens next?” Many people believe that animals have no souls and are concerned that they won’t see their animals in the next life. Perhaps you’re unsure about what “the next life” holds for any of us. If having a soul means being able to feel love, trust and gratitude, then some animals may be better equipped than some humans.
But still, he was pet and not a person, and that makes it more complicated to sort out exactly what you are supposed to do and feel. Although we recognize the individual personalities in pets, that doesn’t mean that they are just “little people.” The relationship you have with your pet is different from any human relationship you may have. We have the responsibility to care for animals and to learn from them. As we domesticated pets, they became dependent upon us for their needs. Part of caring for them, especially in a technologically advanced society, often means deciding when an animal can no longer live a happy life or even a content one.
When an animal is made a pet of a responsible, caring person, he is given exactly what he needs and wants — a secure and comfortable home, companionship, and the opportunity to return the favor through loyalty and affection. Dogs, especially, are naturally eager to please their “leader” and are happiest doing so. When a dog is too old or too sick to respond in the way he thinks he should, he can’t understand why, and feels the anxiety of failure.
Because their natural life-spans are shorter than ours, we usually outlive our pets. Nevertheless, the life you shared cannot simply be erased. Don’t deny yourself the thoughts, memories, and feelings that your pet’s life deserves. You may decide to fill the hole with another pet. However, you can never replace the special bond you held with the one you’ve lost.