Furry Friday: Pet Grief

9-2 seren

Seren is 14. I can’t imagine life without her–don’t WANT to imagine the inevitable…

I’ve written before about pet loss, the grieving process for both owners and for grieving pets, and even whether we can expect our animal friends to be with us in heaven. Whatever your personal belief system, the universal commonality is if you love pets, it hurts to lose them.

I suspect most readers are familiar with the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. The author agrees that those grieving for a pet experience similar stages but has an alternate interpretation. He suggests the grief process is a soul journey of seven stages, progressing from lost soul to becoming re-enchanted with everyday life. He writes that the soul is the deepest, most precious part of us, and where we encounter God, and that, “…if we listen to our soul, it can move us through seven stages of development which, in the end, leave our hearts singing again. The prerequisite is that we turn within and listen…and the soul can do the rest.”

How absolutely lovely!

Father Paul’s seven stages, as with Kubler-Ross, can be experienced in any order and various lengths of time, depending on the individual. They are: feeling alone after the death; dealing with “why me?” learning to receive and offer compassion; realizing an overall purpose; sorting through past life experiences; returning to daily life; and committing to a new level of aliveness and reality.

All of us who love and care for dogs and cats understand that we will outlive our pet, and ultimately have to say goodbye.  But knowing that doesn’t make the reality any easier. Quality care for aging or ill pets can prolong their lives only for so long, and not all pets die in their sleep. When the joy of living is gone, when pain replaces pleasure, and when your dog or cat is ready to leap forward into the next adventure beyond your side, you can grant her the greatest gift of all – a merciful death.

Grief is normal, and a testament to the many years of love you shared. When a beloved animal friend nears the end of life and ultimately dies, grief can be overwhelming and paralyzing. This moving book offers essays and guidance how to understand deep sorrow, move through it, and eventually use the power of that emotion to transform lives.

How have you managed your pet losses? What has helped you–or a friend–work through the grief? Are there certain things that have eased the pain for your pets when they’ve lost a loved one? Please share!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with excerpts from the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND, and pet book give-aways!


Furry Friday: Pet Grief — 17 Comments

  1. Amy, a lovely post and thanks for the resources. I grieved a long time over my amazing cat Oliver I had for 18 years, finally had to put him to sleep. He had been with me as a young woman to being married and a mom. What helped me was creating a tribute to him. I know it may sound silly to some, but I scanned in all his photos that I especially loved of his 18 years. I put them in a powerpoint presentation to music that reminded me of him. I think I worked through my grief in doing that and watched it over and over to remember him (and cry). And then at some point I didn’t need to watch it anymore. I shared it with one other friend and when her cat died, I created a unique one for her. I am glad I created this gift for myself and could help my friend as well. Pets truly are companions and unique in their personalities and a deep part of our family.

    • Oh Donna, 18 years is a wonderful long life–but it’s never enough is it? A tribute to our lost loves is something I often recommend, especially for children. Putting together a scrapbook or memorial offers a tangible something–I love the idea of a powerpoint with music! And what a caring gift for your friend, too. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a tough topic for me. As soon as I got my dog, my heart ached knowing I wouldn’t have her forever. (Yep, total dog sap here. ;)) Since then, I’ve really tried to focus on enjoying every day with her and giving her the best life possible. Animals seem to deal with loss better than we humans… Which is one of many reasons posts like these are invaluable. Thanks, Amy!

    • Dog-Saps-R-Us! and Cat-Saps, too. 🙂 I agree, August, it’s key to focus on the here and now. I learned that with my first dog, he lived to just over 13 years and is the reason I am a writer. Oh damn now I’m gonna cry…but he’s still alive, in me. And in every fur-kid I love I see his reflection, too.

  3. Thanks for covering this subject!

    Just like special people we have loved, we won’t forget them — ever. We still miss our beloved Lucky (1995-2001) who died in a tragic accident and like one of your readers created memorial writings about him and collected the photographs. Our current (also a rescue) cat is a ggg-nephew (estimated relationship), still love visiting with some of his sweet lookalike relatives too. We are just hoping (and trying) to see to it that our current dear lives as long as a cat possibly can and as happily.

    Many, many years ago, I still remembering petting good-bye my dear chihuahua who saved my life.

    • Oh Brenda, you can’t post that and leave us hanging. I too hope your kitty stays with you all 9 lives. But how did your Chihuahua save your life? What a touching good bye…

  4. That sounds like a book I need to look up. After losing first Bluebird (14 1/2) then Rainbow (18) and Twygal (18) I’m grieving big time. I still seem to be stuck in the disbelief stage even though I know logically they are gone from this world.

    In regards to grieving pets I think people need to understand that even if surviving pets do not seem to be grieving the loss of another pet other behaviors may change. Hierarchies are altered and routines are disturbed. The loss of a pet will be noticed by the other pet(s) even if they don’t specifically tell you so.

    • Andrea, it’s a lovely book. My bookshelves overflow so often I donate review books to the library after reading–but this one I will keep forever. I hope it helps. Losing three so close together–I can’t imagine the pain.

      You’re absolutely right about the change in social dynamics and routines in the household. Shy pets may become more confident, the outgoing ones retreat, and anything in between. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  5. My family has had and lost several pets over the years. It never does get easier. Granted, some I grieved for longer than others… as much as we don’t want to “pick favorites” (or at least not admit to it), sometimes you’ll get one that somehow stands out above the rest, that you get bonded more closely to. My first dog died over 10 years ago, but I still have trouble, I still miss her… and I still can’t bear to have another beagle. Maybe that will change, I don’t know. But I just can’t right now.

    I have seen the social dynamics among the cats change – cats who were once second falling to the bottom when the matriarch died and ones somewhere in the middle or even at the bottom rising to the top. It’s a much more complex social system than we ever realize, and I’m still not quite sure how it’s defined.

    I have seen pets grieving for each other. A cat who died not long after my mom’s rabbit (who we thought she hated, but she kept searching the house for weeks)… a gerbil who I watched COMPLETELY lose the will to live when the last traces of his brother’s scent were removed from the cage. That one… it was devastating. I had never seen that depth of feeling from so small a creature before. They had been together their whole lives. He was a little less active when we first took his brother’s body out of the cage. We left some of the bedding still smelling like him there for months, until finally there was just no getting around that it needed to be replaced with clean fluff. But we figured by then it had been long enough. Seems not. From the moment we cleaned out the last of it, he just sort of became… hollow. Just sat there and did nothing. Got up the next morning and he’d gone rigid. I thought he was dead, picked him up… he was ice cold, but still breathing. We tried to warm him back up, wrapped a heat blanket around the cage… we figure now that was probably a disservice to the poor guy, because it only prolonged the inevitable. I guess maybe with the smell still there, there was a chance of his brother coming back in his little mind. once it was gone, there was nothing. He just didn’t want to live anymore. It was horrible to watch… there was just nothing we could do to save him. He just let his heart break, let himself go cold, and waited for death. I had never seen anything like it before. I never want to watch that again.

    Now we’ve got 2 cats in the house who are getting up there in years. Bad things happening to Simba are the subject of way too many nightmares nowadays… either accidents happening or coming home to find her dead. Not too keen on the idea of Anubis being gone either, of course, but Simba is my baby, I’ve known her since kittenhood. They’re bonded to each other, too, and I honestly hope they don’t go too far apart. I dunno which would be worse. Anubis absolutely ADORES Simba, and now that she is losing her senses, Simba has started using Anubis as a guide. They just can’t be without each other now.

    • Also glad the link mentions letting the other pet see the body. I had kind of wondered if maybe that would help things, but I don’t think we ever had a chance to confirm. Most of the times where our pets saw the bodies were… harrowing if Simba’s aversion to certain things when she first moved inside are any indication (she used to be terrified of ceiling fans – we are quite certain her mother was killed by a hawk, or rather, the brain infection that killed her was the result of a hawk talon wound – yes, got picked up, fought BACK, lived a few weeks before finally dying). We had one get killed by a coyote, found him mangled in the barn (which prompted my parents to stop seeing the barn as a haven as clearly there were gaps big enough for larger animals to get through – the outdoor kitties now live in the garage). So… we haven’t exactly had many peaceful deaths to go on, since most of the rest were taken into the vet and buried right after. We had ONE occasion where a natural death occured that we didn’t find until morning – Simba’s calico sister who looked like she just fell over walking to the water bowl and that was it. I don’t think I remember Simba really fussing for long over that one, so maybe it did indeed help.

      Not that i want to think about having to try it anytime soon…

      • How sweet that Anubis acts as Simba’s guide! I know that happens quite a bit with dogs, too. In the cases of traumatic deaths that other pets witness, that certainly can be harrowing and perhaps leave lasting impressions. *sigh*

  6. If you are experiencing pet loss grief, find at least one person you can talk to about your loss and share your feelings. Understand that family members or other loved ones may also be grieving differently and may be in too much pain to support you. Recognize that you may need professional help to get through this.

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