It is time to stop grief shaming people who lose pets. Grief is hard enough without someone who doesn’t know better saying; “It’s just a dog!” or “When are you getting another one?” or “There are plenty of dogs in the shelters to adopt.” Now in the United States more people have pets than don’t, and the push to recognize pets as our “fur kids” is well underway. Eighty percent of pet owners consider their pet as a member of the family. One of my favorite quotes is: “A dog is the only chance you have to choose a member of your family.”
So, when a friend loses a pet think of treating them exactly like you would a person who has just lost a family member. When Lucie had IMHA, we spent time in the waiting room of oncology vets. We witnessed people with their dogs dying of cancer, spending thousands of dollars on them, and grieving that they are sick, wanting to do anything they can to have another day even with their loved one. I personally would like to see family health care/insurance available for our pets, especially if the pet is the main companion for someone.
The human capacity to love is boundless- so of course we can connect to other species besides humans. When you open yourself up to the animal world, you realize animals all have personalities, that they have a SOUL just like humans do. You understand that we can learn from them, because they experience the world slightly differently than we do. For example, cats and dogs can’t lie. They live more in the moment. I learned from my dogs that if you expect people to love you and meet them with that energy they usually respond.
Think of the death of a pet like you would a death in the family because it is. Bring food if it is needed, ask them what they need from you, what you can do to help them during their time of grief. Sometimes it helps to just show up and help them do chores, or errand, or whatever is needed because they are numb, not able to go through the basic motions of the day. Help with the day to day life. Make sure they eat and ask them about exercise. Most people walk with their dogs, so after they lose a dog, they also quit walking. That denies them their daily exercise routine, time spent outside in the great weather, and the good hormones they would get from the experience. So, ask them if they want to walk with you, or join you in some other physical activity.
Some people may also not understand why they are so depressed or why they’re grieving so deeply. Many of my clients are surprised at the total agony of their grief accompanying the loss of their pet. This isn’t someone they saw occasionally, it is a being that spent their daily lives with them, probably sharing their bed, their snacks, their walks, their hopes, and secrets. You notice the emptiness created when they are gone as you start moving forward in your life again, and adjustments must be made. They might not understand what is going on themselves- we are not prepared by our society for the enormity of grief we will feel over our pets passing.
Remind your friend that they may want to keep a memento of their pet, like a lock of hair, some ashes, a favorite toy, or bed. Make sure that they have pictures of the pet in a safe place so that they don’t lose them. One of the great gifts from Pet Perennials are picture frames with messages about a beloved pet. Give them a gift that will make them remember their pet in a positive way. There are several choices offered by Pet Perennials. Perhaps the perfect gift would be a wind chime to hang in the dog’s favorite tree, or flowers, creating a memorial garden in their honor.
Ask if they are having a ceremony as a memorial in honor of their pet. Offer to help them put one on if they want to do one. This can be in the backyard, at their favorite dog park, or just some friends getting together offering remembrances of the pet. For me, it was rewarding to hear stories of my dog Lucie’s interactions with other people, it reminded me that I wasn’t the only person to love her, and that she had touched many lives, not just mine. It helped to move me out of my grief for a while and brought me into the joy that Lucie’s life had been. I would recommend this as an activity to honor a deceased pet.
Realize that your friend had a relationship with their pet that has enriched their lives, filling a spot in their lives that a person couldn’t. Pets love us with their whole hearts, some people have never been loved that completely by a human before. I was at a pet event in Phoenix when an older man came up to me and whispered in my ear; “I lost my dog last year. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” The man had grown children, a wife, a life of growth and experiences, yet losing his DOG was the hardest thing he had ever gone through. Think about him the next time you have a friend lose a dog and respond with the kind of compassion that is deserving of their love for their furry friend.
Ann Hoff is a well-known Animal Communicator, Intuitive Medium, and a regular contributor to our FB Group “I Am not Crazy Because I Talk to Animals” and leads a monthly Zoom call with members wishing to chat with a pet, or simply ask Ann a question. This month's content addresses the earthly lessons we learn through loss.
PetPerennials.com offers a range of cards and remembrances that you can send to someone you know dealing with loss this holiday season. If you can, call or write and spend a moment talking to the person about their loss. It will matter far more than you realize.