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Navigating the Anniversary of a Beloved Pet's Passing with Ann Hoff

Lori Davidson | 28 March, 2024

            Pet Loss and Grief Navigating anniversary of loss

Reflections on Grief, Healing, and Celebration

This was a leap year. As you know, they only happen once in four years. I lost my dog Patsy on a leap day. She walked between my horses and was accidentally severely hurt. I took her to the emergency vet, and after spending $7,000 she was taken off life support at 1 am the next morning. What had looked like a survivable injury wasn’t. Her heart beat on for another 45 minutes before she passed. She always had one hell of a loving heart. The vet said to me that he put so many dogs down because the owners didn’t want to spend the money to try and save them. With Patsy, I was willing to spend any money it took, and he still couldn’t save her. “The universe isn’t always fair,” he said.

As you can imagine, that was one of the most traumatic days in my life. My horses didn’t know any better, they were just horsing around and had no realization of how big they were. I knew it was a risk that Patsy was never scared of the horses, but I never knew what to do about it. The next two Bichons I owned I kept away from the horses. It is different if a dog is over forty pounds. A little twenty-pound dog who thinks she owns the world is not a match for any horse and isn’t safe around them. I still do not know how to train a small dog to respect and fear the power of a horse. I’d love to have a dog that could spend time with me in the barn around my horses, and it is the major reason I still lust after having a border collie. My border collie was meant to be a companion to horses, and she knew it. She always went on trail rides, her tail raised high in the air like a plume of victory when she got to come out on the trail.

I seem to have veered a little off subject; this blog is about what to do with anniversaries of a death. The loss of a dog (or beloved cat or any pet) is so personal, it is like cutting off an arm or a leg knowing that it will not grow back. I had never had a dog “accident” with the horses before, and that added another layer to the grief, my dog had been killed by a decision I had made. It was such a nightmare; I am somewhat grateful to only be reminded of the tragedy every four years. Leap day is still not comfortable for me. The death of Patsy is compounded by the fact that my mom took ill the next day. I didn’t fly home to be with her, as I was so grief stricken after the tragic accident that took Patsy from me. She died four days later without me being present. Leap Year forever more became a giant grief sink hole.

Which also brings a question: “Do you celebrate the anniversary of a death?”  To me, it doesn’t bring forth joy, but the remembrance of an accident and a life ended too soon. But can you turn the date to a celebration of life? One person shared with me that they had a celebration of life on the date of a death anniversary. They planned something fun to acknowledge the deceased’s love of life. They would take a trip or adventure on that date. They also shared with me that it is important to remember that your pet is in a better place now.

I know that they are in a better place for sure, because I talk to pets in heaven. They are out of pain, usually with people that we have loved also in our lives, like our parents or that kind grandmother you had that took in stray cats.

Whether you choose, or not, to do a celebration of life on the anniversary of a pet’s passing, know there is no right or wrong decision. It is a personal choice. Very personal. But I wanted to share some thoughts on ways to deal with the anniversary of a pet’s death. Because we all feel the emptiness and loss.

What is interesting is that because all my pets are rescues, I don’t know their birthdays. But I always remember the day they died. Especially if it was an accident or traumatic, or sudden. It feels like there isn’t any training on how to deal with that type of tragedy. Are we ever ready for loss?

Thoughts on how to get through anniversary grief:

  • Think about the wonderful attributes your pet embodied. If they loved to go out in nature, loved people, were almost fanatical about playing with certain friends even. Then think of a way you can honor that trait.
  • Start a new tradition. Did your pet love to hike a certain trail? Why not plan a hike on that trail with friends and celebrate your dog’s exploratory nature? Make it a yearly thing. Call it a celebration of life and ask everyone what they miss most about your dog. While writing this my Bichon Gracie sent me a memory of her sitting in the backseat, her head out the window while we drove to Vegas. She LOVED going on road trips. She just shared with me that going on a road trip is a way to celebrate what she loved the most. 
  • If you do know your dog’s birthday, maybe you want to have a celebration of life on that day instead. Make the anniversary of the death a time for retrospection and communication with the other side.
  • The anniversary of your pet’s death would be a meaningful time to schedule a session with an animal communicator so you could talk to them. Why wonder if they are doing okay when you can find out for yourself? A good animal communicator will have information from your pet that only you and your pet would know. Having a session might provide a reassuring way to realize that life goes on, and that their death really wasn’t the end. You might even get the added bonus of your pet’s desire to reincarnate and return to you in a different body. Love returns to love. Sadness lessens when you find out they desire to return to Earth to join you on new adventures.
  • The time-honored tradition to remember someone on the anniversary of their death is to place flowers on a grave. I have never done this, but I do have happy memories of going to small cemeteries with my mother and putting flowers on all the graves on Memorial Day. I have cut myself off from that tradition, but it brings peace to many people.
  • Getting people together that deeply cared for your loved one is another way to remember. They may be struggling with their own feelings of loss during this time. It isn’t always healthy to be alone on anniversaries of death. There is a comforting aspect to people being together and sharing the load of the grief. They all have unique relationships with you, and so too they had a unique relationship with your pet. Hearing different memories that they held dear may provide much needed comfort. Also, it is a way to celebrate the life of fun and love you and your pet shared, and not just remember the loss, or perhaps the overwhelming circumstances that led to their death.
  • This isn’t my idea of an enjoyable time, but one of my clients suggested getting a tattoo in the loved one’s honor. Something that will always remind you of them but isn’t too garish.
  • Write a psychic letter to your pet. A psychic letter is a letter you write and then send to their higher self. You can say how much you miss them, what you have been doing, pour all your feelings out. You will feel better if you do this. I can also guarantee that your pet will get the letter in heaven and be glad to know you are still thinking of them. Remember, thoughts are energy. Everything starts with thought.
  • Another choice that might be best for you is to spend the actual anniversary day alone. Look at the loving pictures you have of them. Go to one of your favorite haunts together on your own. If you have a new dog, tell them what was so special about the dog that came before them. Do some photography of the places you both loved. Come up with something that is unique to do but might have been private between the two of you.
  • Plan a safety net. If you know there is a high likelihood that you will be a basket case on the anniversary of your pup’s death, plan something that will make it less traumatic. Maybe try not to think about them at all, but go to a movie festival, or call that friend that is always there for you. You don’t even have to tell them why you need the support, just ask them to be present. Distract your thoughts.
  • If celebrating their life seems too much, a grief counselor shared with me that you only need to honor your loved one a few moments in the day. You don’t have to torture yourself with thinking about sad things all day long. It doesn’t mean you love them less. You can give them a meaningful mindful ritual in just a few moments. Listen to songs that remind you of them, show a photo reel of their pictures, whatever feels appropriate in the time you want to allot. Consider lighting a pet memorial candle in their honor. Or framing a favorite photo and displaying it in a place of honor in your home.
  • Do a tradition that you did when your pet was alive. If you walked in a parade to support homeless pets, do it again with your new dog or with a friend. If you went up to the mountains on New Year’s, do it again. It might seem hard at first, but maintaining a treasured tradition is something that can be really satisfying and add structure to your loss.
  • Realize that while you might not think you remember the date, your body will. One client shared with me that she has random anxiety that builds up on the anniversary of her loved one’s death. It isn’t usually just that one day either, there will be a period leading up to the date that feels uneasy. Be kind to your body. Take an Epsom salt bath to get extra emotions out of your tissues. Don’t take on new projects nor put yourself in a stressful situation or go on a stressful trip.
  • When ready, think about adopting a new pet in your dog’s honor. My belief is that our heart gets bigger with every single being we love. I know with each pet I have brought into my life, my heart wider, I become a better pet parent and more capable of loving; it would be a shame to not use those skills There is honor in being able to save even one of the many pets abandoned, or being euthanized in shelters every day. Even if you have your mind set on a registered purebred dog, there are rescues available for all breeds. I know because I have worked with all of them. 
  • Plan on putting their name somewhere on a plaque as a memorial. Best Friends has a memorial garden where they place the names of beloved pets. Cat Hermitage here in Tucson has bricks in their courtyard you can buy for a donation and put your cat’s name on. If you aren’t going to save another pet at a rescue, giving a rescue money in your pet’s name is the next best thing.
  • Use the day as a celebration of life for all your pets, those in the past and those with you now. Now that I have lived through the loss of several dogs, I cherish even more my current companions, the time I am blessed with and understand they will not always be in my life. Any way I can find to live fully present in each moment and cherish that time we have together as sacred is paramount is a celebration of life. I remember listening to a Tim Ferris podcast where he said he would pay a million dollars for just another week with his dog who had passed. Sometimes we don’t know what we have until the pet is no longer there. A celebration of the life you have now with your fur family will be something that you can cherish today and into the future.

Pets come into our lives with a purpose, and each of them usually has a unique mission. My cat Spike reincarnated to me for three lifetimes. It was obvious it was Spike, because he had a black whisker on his left cheek, drooled when he purred, slept on my head, and always hung out in the same spots as before. He told me in his last life with me that we had completed everything he had come to teach me; that there was no reason for him to reincarnate with me anymore. I was extremely disappointed, but then a few months later, Samson came. Sam is a ginger tiger cat like Spike was, but he has long hair. The hysterical thing is that every month or so, Samson will have a black whisker on his chin. That is when I know that Sam is visiting heaven and Spike is in his body. It is a perfect way to show me he still loves me yet remind me it is time to move forward with the lessons in love I still need to learn in this lifetime.

Remember, you can’t do anything wrong in observing (or not) your pet’s passing day. It is really a day that is about you more than them- they are up in heaven happy, and you are still here on earth.


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.



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