Man’s Best Friend: 5 Considerations for Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Two weeks ago my husband was playing with our dog, Amos, when he felt a lump – a huge lump – on his side.

When I say huge, I mean a humongous golf-ball sized lump that came out of nowhere. Seriously, nowhere; a few days before there was nothing and then suddenly there’s this enormous lump.  Now, I’ll admit Amos is a lumpy dog.  He’s had his fair share of lumps in the past and every time I’ve spiraled into a panic convinced it is cancer.  But until now every lump has been benign; the result ofthis is amosallergic reactions and fatty tumors, but never the dreaded C word.

When this lump arrived, bigger and faster than ever, I did what any normal, red-blooded American does: I took to Google.  But, in an odd twist of events, everything I found online was so promising and reassuring – something that appears and grows that large that quickly probably isn’t cancer.  Phew!

Between the past benign lumps and the ‘good news’ I received care from Google, I was disturbingly calm.  We went to the vet in the morning, they aspirated the lump, and then we waited.  It was a calm wait, something that felt totally foreign.  It would be fine, I figured.  It always is.  Besides, Google said so and we all know everything on the Internet is true.

Then the vet called and all of a sudden my calm shattered . . . cancer.  The details were fuzzy – they didn’t have enough cells to know the type for sure – one possibility was really bad – the other not so bad.  The long and short was that they needed to remove the lump and perform a biopsy to know for sure.  The irony was not lost on me.  All that anxiety all those other times had been for nothing and then the one time I should have been anxious, the one time it would have been warranted, nothing.  I had been totally calm, no constant sense of dread or chronic pit in my stomach.  Clearly, this is evidence that my anxiety and worry is the only thing protecting me and my loved one’s from imminent death and/or cancer.

A few days later we took Amos to have the lump removed and we brought him home with a 7 inch stitched incision.  Then we waiting again for results.  Finally we received a voicemail: Hemangiopericytoma.  It was the best of all possible bad news.  The best-case-cancer-scenario; if you can ever put ‘cancer’ and ‘good news’ in the same sentence.   The whole tumor was removed with clean margins and this type of cancer has a low rate of recurrence.  No need for puppy chemo or radiation or tough treatment decisions.

When we were finally able to heave a sigh of relief, my husband, who had outwardly been holding it together far better than I had been, said to me, “I really thought the dog was going to die”.  He confessed that he had left work early several days during the week because he couldn’t concentrate and wanted to spend as much time as he could with dog.

My mind flashed back to a woman who approached us after we spoke at a grief summit several months ago; a grief professional who had lost her husband several years before.  She stopped us to say that her dog had recently died and that she was struggling immensely, that the grief seemed even worse than when she had lost her husband.  Her dog had been her comfort and her companion after her husband’s death and now she was left to grieve all alone.

Now, some of you out there are reading this and saying to yourself…these must be crazy dog people.  You know, the pet owners who let their dog sit at the dinner table and keep photos of them in their wallets.   But I assure you, we are normal pet owners – our dog doesn’t even sleep in our bed, much less sit at the dinner table. You have to understand, for many people pets are like family and it hurts to see them suffering and we grieve when they die.

For as many people who don’t get it, there are just as many who do, but this divide poses a challenge when a pet is ill, lost, or dies.  On the one hand there are those people who understand the depths of the loss, on the other there are those who think you are crazy.  We’ve never written about the illness or death of a pet here, in part because there are other people who are already doing it so well.  Just the same, we are going to share a few thoughts about the loss of a pet.  If you’re struggling with this type of loss we suggest you go check out our friend Marty over at the Grief Healing Blog for many great articles on pet loss.

Five Considerations for Those Grieving the Loss of a Pet

1.  Some people just won’t “get” it. They are not worth arguing with. These people will not be particularly supportive, and you will not turn them in to a pet person or someone who understands pet loss.  Some people will get it. Focus on those people! You will have friends who understand the pain that comes with pet loss.  Those are the people you want to turn to, not the friend who is saying things like, “well you still have another cat, right?”  Remember what we say about utilizing your support system effectively and just let it go when someone doesn’t understand.

2.  Your grief is normal, you are not crazy! Because pet loss isn’t typically acknowledged as significant, it can make us feel abnormal when the pain is so devastating. But the pain is absolutely normal and you have the right to grieve.  Consider some of the reasons why pet loss is so difficult:

  • Your pet is with you every day, for hours a day. I spend more time with my dog than my mom, my sister, or my best friends.
  • People feel protective of their pets. It is the owners job to take care of an animal.  When they die, despite all the rationality in the world, it can be hard not to feel a sense of failure.
  • Pets love unconditionally. Who else do you accepts you 100% for who you are and loves you no matter what?
  • Many times a pet is there to help you through other losses or hardship: they are a comfort when the world is turned upside down and when you feel afraid, sad or alone.  When a pet has always been your comfort in times of pain, it’s hard to know where to turn when you now must grieve for the pet.
  • Pets are companions to our loved ones, especially children. Losing a pet can often mean seeing children in the household suffer and grieve, often for the first time.  In addition to your own pain, you also have the pain of seeing your child grieve.

3.  Create a grave marker and/or have a memorial. This does not have to be a big display if you don’t want it to be; I am not suggesting you put it in the paper.  I am suggesting you decide on something small to do, either by yourself or with family and close friends.  If you are burying your animal and plan to have a little stone or marker, you may wish to say a few words.  If your pet was cremated you may wish to have a box with the ashes and photo of the pet, and say a few words when you display it.  You may also wish to spread the ashes at a location your pet loved – a park, trail, place to swim, etc.  Rituals are important whether you have lost a pet or a family member.

4.  There will be some especially difficult times: when you first get home from work and your pet is not there to greet you; first thing in the morning when feeding them is no longer part of your routine (especially if you don’t have another pet); or the time you normally would have taken them for a walk, pet them, or played with them.  Be prepared, the house may feel very empty.  For some, creating a ritual or plan can be helpful during these tough moments.  When my lab Gloria died, I would come straight home and get in the shower, just to have something else to “do” during the time I would have been playing with her when I first got home from work.

5.  Dealing with the “stuff”. When a person dies we know we will ultimately have to address their many belongings – cars, clothes, homes, etc.  Many underestimate that, though our dog or cat may have had very few belongings, their presence can be very powerful and painful.  The sight of their leash, collar, or empty bowls can be excruciating.   Check out our other posts about belongings for some ideas for dealing with this.

Alright, after you subscribe to receive posts straight to your email inbox go ahead and hug your dog, cat, bird, snake, gerbil, or goldfish.  

May 23, 2017

19 responses on "Man's Best Friend: 5 Considerations for Grieving the Loss of a Pet"

  1. great points altogether, you just won a logo new reader.
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  2. Thank you Deb. It has gotten better. Bear is home sitting above my fireplace and I know he is there. I see cloud formations all thd time that look like him so he is telling me he is there. I just look up and smile and tell hkm I see him and that I love him and will see him soon. You always know that day will come when theg leave you so you dont think about it and ignore it cause it scares the crap out of you. But he knows what J was feeling and he has given me the signs to lessen the pain. It still hurts like hell, but I know he is there. I draw his face now on all my bolf balls now to mark them. I do whatever helps. Thank you again fof replying. I really appreciate it.

    • Isn’t that a wonderful thing, Shawn — you had already intended to “look up in the sky…” so Bear knew that and therefore sent you signs exactly where you’d be sure to look! 🙂 (isn’t Spirit just brilliant?!)
      I, too, experienced several cloud formations that looked JUST like my own furgirl, and always precisely when my heart and soul were feeling EXTRA bereft…once they were even passed onto me by another person (who knew of my girl’s story and my pain), having taken 2 pictures of these cloud images and posting them online for me.
      Our loved ones will always find a way to connect with us, as long as we remain ready and even just a wee bit open-minded enough to notice. As one of Wayne Dyer’s book title’s says, “you’ll see it when you believe it.” But I’d even add, you might also see such signs UNTIL you “believe it” / in them! I’m very glad what you’re seeing AND doing for yourself is aiding you in your grief. Hang in there.

  3. I had to put my Bear (chow) down 2 days ago. I was hoping that if i googled how to cope with losing man’s best friend, Iwould find something that would comfort me and I am very thankful for finding this blog. After reading all your posts and responses, I feel like I found a place to express my excrutiating grief. I had Bear since he was exactly 2 months old and I had to put him down 14 years, 3 months, and 11 days later. I was already in tears the morning watching him from above the stairs sleeping so sound and peacefully. I called my boss to let him know I had to take my bubba to the doctor and that I would probably not be in that day. He heard the cry in my voice and said I hope everything goes okay. This is the first time I have ever had to do this and the pain I imagined, hoping that would prepare me for the worst, was the size of an ant compared to the size of an elephant, which was what i felt that day. It would have been more comforting to have been eaten by a shark alive then to have gone through that. I saw it coming a couple nights before and I prayed each night for God to take him in his sleep when he was ready. It still would have hurt like hell to have lost him passing in the night while he was dreaming of chasing bunnies, but having to pull the trigger and take him in, fearing the end result, has turned my life a complete 180. It took every ounce of my emotional being to not pick him up and just take him back home. The tears and mucas falling from my face was like a severe thunderstorm and there was no use wipping because it would not cease. I must have told him 1000 times I loved him before the final injection. I told the vet he has one of the strongest hearts and souls in any living creature. it took 2 doses of the serum because his heart wouldnt stop after the 1st one. I looked at her and told her “I told you his heart was strong!” After it was over, I picked him up from the carpet he was laying on and brought him back to the room where they prep for cremation and laid him on the table. I told him I loved him one more time, probably a few times, grabbed his face and planted one more kiss on his mouth. I remember every moment of that process so vividly and it was the absolute worst thing anyone has to go through. My kid and my best friend are gone now and it has turned my entire life a 180. Everything I eat, when I can eat, tastes like crap. I am a huge Clash of Clans player and now thats no interest. Nothing is funny or interesting and I just find myself pacing the house when I get home after work feeling empty inside. I realize time will be the only thing that will lessen the pain and I realize it will never fully go away. I agree with Deb wholeheartedly…They are not “LIKE” family members, they ARE your family, they ARE your best friend, they ARE your true love. There is no comparing them to anything of nature…they just ARE. I am scared to stop feeling like this, for the fact he will might think I am over him and have moved on. Right now that’s not even an option if I wanted it it to be. I am wrting a poem for him to post in Facebook. I never go on that site anymore to post, but I want the entire world to know how great he is/was. I told him everyday how muched I loved him and it feels like it wasnt close to enough. I wanted to do more. I was his protector and he was mine. It just really hurts like no pain I havd ever experienced. He is and will always be my true love till the day I die. And one day he will great me at Heaven’s gates. Until then my friend, I will look up in the sky each and everyday and tell you how much I love you and miss you! Even if no one reads this, it was comforting to express this on your blog. Thank you again for making it available.

    • Shawn, your love for Bear is tangible in the telling of your story, and I can relate to that feeling of not wishing to have that excruciating pain leave, as if that means you’ve “moved on,” as if that would somehow dilute your love. But trust me, NOTHING short of maybe Alzheimer’s or some condition like that beyond your control, could lessen or dissipate such a great love. Nothing. Not even time. Even IF the pain goes away entirely and all you’re left with IS the love. Love is not merely a feeling but a CHOICE, and that choice is always available.

      In my experience though, for most people, the pain of loss never completely leaves, it just softens to a less excruciating level, and to feeling more bearable, over time AND with the appropriate grief-work in tandem. Also, it has been my experience many times now, that my furbabies always KNOW how I’m feeling, even many years after their transitions, and even if how I’m feeling isn’t directly related to their passings. They always show up and support me, by giving me signs that they’re still with me, still loving me, still caring about me. That of course gets me missing them more all over again!, but at least I know our souls are still irrevocably connected and cannot be torn asunder.

      So I believe your “true love” status will always be so, and Bear will know precisely how you’re doing, and will always be able to experience all the love behind your pain. As is said, the measure of your pain is ALSO the measure of your love — just different sides of the same coin. And whatever times you can manage to live without that agony, to whatever degree, that love will simply shine brighter and Bear will feel that, too. I consider it rather a “can’t really lose either way” formula, for which I’ve become very grateful.

      My sincere condolences to you in especially these early days, which certainly ARE “elephants,” as you say. But your poetical tribute to your Bear is a wonderful idea for your healing, and I wish you every good thing with that endeavor.

    • Thank you Deb. It has gotten better. Bear is home sitting above my fireplace and I know he is there. I see cloud formations all thd time that look like him so he is telling me he is there. I just look up and smile and tell hkm I see him and that I love him and will see him soon. You always kbow that day will come when theg leave you so you dont think about it and ignore it cause it scares the crap out of you. But he knows what J was feeling and he has given me the signs to lessen the pain. It still hurts like hell, but I know he is there. I draw his face now on all my bolf balls now to mark them. I do whatever helps. Thank you again fof replying. I really appreciate it.

      Shawn

  4. One more thing . . .I have to tell you that one of the ways that I coped with all that loss was via photography and quotes. Every month for a year I would put together a “collage” of photos along with a meaningful quotes or lyric that I was especially moved by or feeling at the time. I then posted it on Facebook to my friends who knew what was going on and their responses were a big help. Now you don’t have to post on social media but you may want to share with family members or friends so that they can understand what you are going through and how you are feeling.. Their responses may surprise. you. It was sorta cathartic for me, I hope something like this can be for you too!

  5. Hi Everyone: This is Joe , I’m the guy who left the post in Apr 2015 about the losses of my partner of 18 years and then our beloved dog “Buddy” a week later. Just wanted to leave an update and hopefully some words that may help those that have recently had to part with their best friend. That year was a tough one, I lost our 2nd Wheaton, Clementine later that same year. The good news is that I received a gift from God that Spring, another male Wheaton. His name is Saemus and he is now the brightest light in my life. The sadness I still carry over the loss of Buddy and Clem will never go away. The going does get a little bit easier but I still cry, no weep over the losses I sustained that year. Saemus will never replace Buddy or Clem as he is a new friend who made me realize that my heart could still love….and boy do I love him. He has been a God-send in every aspect of the word. So, the loss of a pet is devastating and life will never be quite the same, but you never know what lies just around the corner…so keep your eyes and feelings open!

  6. I had a dog for 8 years and last month we parted ways. I’m reading as many blogs as I can to find a solution for this pain but it’s really hard. I love that you pointed out that most people spend more time with pets than with a member of the family, that was my case. I had him cremated so I can keep the ashes close to me, maybe that was even a selfish move but I just can’t let go. Recently a friend of mine told me that there is a company that turns ashes into diamonds and then you can wear the diamond in a form of ring or bracelet. Honestly, I’m giving this a hard thought and I maybe even do it but I would love to hear your advice. Please let me know what you think about this idea, it would mean so much!
    Thanks

    • Tracy M., I say, “why NOT?!” I’ve seen these and think they’re a wonderful idea if you can afford them! And after all, a diamond is not very easily damaged, so can surpass other forms of memorial jewellery, such as a locket with their fur in it, as I chose to do at the time. Other people have a bit of their ashes inserted into locket-type pendants that are then soldered shut.

      I went the other route mainly so I could still remove the protective plastic liner and see and touch their fur whenever I wanted. It’s not at all the same as when they were alive of course, and I try not to do that too often, as I don’t want to lose even one piece of fur(!), so it requires taking much care.

      But whatever suits your needs in grief is just fine. Follow your own heart, because this is YOUR grief, not anyone else’s.

  7. Our dogs, will be a part of our lives forever, they shared their lives with us and they love us like no other person will ever love us, when they die, our lives will never be the same, they teach us about love, something many humans don’t know, but there’s a purpose for them being in our lives, we found out happines in life through them, so at the end we will reunite our selves with them in the kingdom of heaven cause our heart’s belong to them, always and FOREVER.

  8. It’s taken me a while to write a comment about this post of yours but I would like to thank you so very much for writing this. On 29 January 2014, I lost the love of my life, my child, my beloved kitty Samson who was the closest being that I would ever have to having a child of my own. My Samson was always there for me for 12 & 1/2 years and while he was an absolute terror at times, and boy did he know it, he was full of life, cheeky, and an amazing animal. He saw me through so many tough times and I also saw him through tough times that he went through. He was sick, and I was working for months with an amazing vet to try to get him better but he had too many things wrong and was not improving and I had to make THAT horrible gut wrenching decision. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss my baby so terribly much and for months I cried every day and most days I still cry, missing him so much it literally does hurt. I have tried support groups, talking to a couple of people who lost their animals, but a lot of people just don’t get it and don’t get how important an animal can be to someone, that their animal is their child and their reason for going on and is pretty much the only thing that brings them any happiness. I still cry over our beloved doberman that we lost 30 years ago. Animals are so pure in their love, totally unconditional, total devotion, never judge you – their love is so precious. I loved my Samson for so many years and he’s been gone for almost a year & half and I still love him with all my heart and that will never change. My life, my love, my heart… The pain of loss and heartache is so terribly strong still. I wish I would wake up & find out it was all a bad dream and he’s still here and would see his face coming around the corner & hear his voice again and see his eyes again. Thank God for photos and video so that I can still see and hear him and remember so many wonderful times over the years.

    • Ahhh Diana I’m so sorry about Samson 🙁 I’m sure you miss him all the time. 12 & 1/2 years is a long time to come home to a companion only to have them gone. My heart goes out to you and I hope you find a little bit of comfort here.

  9. So sorry to hear that Joe. This past October my father died very suddenly and then one month later my beloved dog of 15 years died. And often I find myself mourning and missing my sweet dog more than my dad. But she was always there and loved unconditionally. To add to that, one month after she died my relationship ended because he could not understand why I was grieving so much. Three losses in three months, and still somehow life goes on.

  10. A few points to share:
    (sorry in advance for the use of caps for emphasis, but there are no italics available)
    1) I can SO relate to your feeling that ” Clearly this is evidence that my anxiety and worry is the only thing protecting me and my loved one’s from imminent death and/or cancer.” My jaw dropped when I read that, as I thought I was “the only one” who did this! It seems crazy, yet that ‘formula’ has born out more times than I care to count! I’ve even experimented with it at a few worrisome times, yet most of the time, a worse outcome HAS come about from NOT worrying, and I hate that! I figure it must be that inner belief in this that I developed over time, that keeps it “working” as is….seems impossible to break that problematic habit now. 🙁

    2) Respectfully, I have to say it greatly bothers me that anyone ever feels the need to make disclaimers, such as saying you’re “normal pet owners”…as if those who AREN’T seen as “average” in this regard, such as myself, ARE indeed “crazy.” Meanwhile, I consider it MORE “normal” AND totally appropriate, and even more loving, to (for just one example) sleep WITH one’s furbabies, rather than delegate them to another spot as if they somehow don’t “deserve” anything better. I also don’t believe any does or even CAN really “own” any other living being, so have never called myself an “owner” of any of my fur-family members.

    3) In the same vein, I have a big problem with hearing people say our animal companions are “like” family, as if they are automatically relegated to some arbitrary “lower” rung just because they’re not glorified humans. All my relationships with animals who have been beloved to me have been SO deep, loving, and rich, they aren’t “like” family, but in every way, shape and form, ARE family, and much more so than the vast majority of humans I’ve had in my life, particularly those who were blood-related! This all-too-common means of creating a subtle, yet distinct, lowering of their perceived “status” in society (“like” family, but not “real” family) is an insidious part of WHY grief over their loss is “disenfranchised” in the first place, and is therefore counterproductive to having animal loss respected, as it ought to be.

    The words we use are powerful and far-reaching tools and we should use them as wisely as possible.

    4) I, too, feel so bad for you Joe, and can’t imagine how incredibly shocking, sickening and heartbreaking two such losses, one following right on the heals of the other, must be for you. I know it would feel utterly “impossible” for me to cope with all at once, too. But obviously, someone like me would fully (and even gratefully) acknowledge that there is absolutely nothing abnormal or wrong with sometimes grieving more for Buddy than for your partner, or experiencing flipping back and forth between each. There’s no need to make any of that a ‘contest’ in our minds, though. EACH of the two losses must certainly be excruciatingly painful, and that’s all perfectly acceptable and understandable. Just give yourself the gift of great compassion for yourself in your pain, even if no one else does.

    I also “get” the whole Magical Thinking protective mechanism. In fact, I’m experiencing that phenomena again myself and have been for months now, just allowing it to stay there until “whenever.” It will help to shield me from the deepest parts of my pain until “if or when” I can gradually let it go…which, so far, has only been for the odd few seconds at a time.

  11. tHANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR POST. MY PARTNER OF 18 YEARS DIED SUDDENLY ON 01/04/2015, ONE WEEK LATER OUR BELOVED PET BUDDY DIED IN MY ARMS UNEXPECTEDLY..NEEDLESS TO SAY, I HAD TO BE PUT INTO A HOSPITAL FOR 2 WEEKS OF OBSERVATION..NOW I JUST CRY EVERY DAY..AND YES SOMEDAYS MORE FOR BUDDY THAN MY PARTNER. I KEEP SAYING TO MYSELF THAT THIS IS NOT REAL, ALMOST LIKE MAGICAL THINKING…I ALSO DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN LIVE WITH SUCH PROFOUND SADNESS!!

    • Oh Joe, I am so sorry. That is so much loss to come all at once. I can’t even begin imagine. After such a short period of time it is no surprise that the pain feels impossible and that the tears come every day. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting through one moment at a time. Have you been getting any continued professional support after coming home from the hospital, of have you gone to any grief support groups? They aren’t for everyone, but for some they can be extremely helpful. Please know you are not alone – I hope you find some support here on our site . . .

  12. Marty Tousley @GriefHealingApril 27, 2015 at 12:02 pmReply

    Litsa, my dear, you already know how I feel about this topic ~ and I’m so happy to read that Amos is out of the woods! Blessings to you, and thank you for writing this ♥

  13. thank you this is hepful. I have a blog related to lessons learned from loving and losing our dog to cancer. She just died on Satruday. I would love to submit it as my “What’s Your Grief” story. Not sure how.

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