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The Wuzzy Chronicles

On Loving Pets...and Losing Them

Each person deals with the loss of a pet differently
Pawprint of Benji, our family's first dog
Published on September 27, 2010 : 29 comments

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Unless you have a tortoise or a Macaw, or received a kitten for your one hundredth birthday, you entered this relationship knowing that you would probably outlive your pet. That you chose to love with your whole heart, knowing it would one day most likely be broken, is the mark of an amazing person.

It is not supposed to be like this.

Just because mortality is constant, a given, an unbending truth, does not mean that it is right. We were made for immortality. We were not made for death. Separation is painful. We long for more, for what could be, for what should be.

It is OK to mourn.

We were not told not to mourn. We were told not to mourn as those who have no hope. We have hope. And mourning is healthy. In fact, it is the pathway to healing.

The pain may surprise you.

Sometimes, the pain is much stronger or longer lasting than expected. With the loss of a pet, we do not always have the comforting rituals of visitation time with family and friends, a funeral, or an official mourning period. You may need a memorial service or a symbol of remembrance. You may need help. Do not be afraid to ask for it or seek it out.

The stages of grief can be messy.

The “traditional” five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) do not always go in order or even show up at all. You may skip denial and bargaining, move quickly through anger, linger over depression and achieve acceptance, only to be overcome by a tidal wave of depression at the sight of a super cute shaggy dog being walked by your window a year later. So unfair! But it happens.

You did the right thing at every step.

Benji a few days before he died: He is laying next to Amanda at three months old. He loved to be right where she was.Benji a few days before he died: He is laying next to Amanda at three months old. He loved to be right where she was.Our pets depend on us to make so many decisions for them, including end of life decisions, that we are often left with second guessing and doubt after all is said and done. If there is an enemy in this story, it is death itself. You are the hero. Throughout the life of your pet, to the very end, you used every resource you had to care for them to the very best of your ability. Be kind to yourself now. Sometimes false guilt sneaks in when we are vulnerable. Sometimes sadness turns inward and masquerades as guilt. If you do not have the energy to show yourself grace, find someone who does. Friends and family are waiting to help. (Hint: Some of those standing by are human and some are furrier.)

The loss of each pet is different…and it is not.

Even if you have dealt with loss before, each situation is different, because each pet is different, each relationship is different, and each of our own life stages is different. And every family member will process the death of a pet differently. Experience is not necessarily our friend, though it can prepare us in the broadest sense. Sometimes it can even be a complicator of grief, especially when two or more difficult life experiences occur in a short amount of time.

Children mourn differently than adults…and they don’t.

When a Pet Dies by Fred RogersWhen a Pet Dies by Fred RogersThe death of a pet may be a child’s first experience with mortality. They need straight-forward answers without euphemisms. (“Put to sleep” is off the table.) They may need to ask the same questions more than once as they process. Answer as much as you can emotionally handle, and do not feel as though you need to hide your own sadness from them.

The absolute best resource I have found for children was a gift from my Dad, Mr. Rogers’ picture book, When a Pet Dies. As helpful as it is for children, it has been even more helpful for adults I have known. I pull my own copy off the shelf when I am missing a personal pet or patient, and Mr. Rogers always seems to know just what I need to hear.

You will be ready for another pet someday…or you won’t.

I had a client who was so grieved over the loss of her wonderful old cat that she stopped at the shelter on the way home from the veterinary hospital and adopted a gorgeous black cat who looked almost identical to the cat she had just lost. I begged her not to, sure that she needed time and that she would expect New Cat to be Old Cat. I was wrong. What she needed was to not go home on the very same day that she had lost her beloved friend to an empty house for the first time in her adult life.

Another dear client had a little white Poodle that she taught to sign “thank you.” He always thanked me after his veterinary visits, which became more and more frequent towards the end. When he developed a terminal illness, she and her husband decided that after he passed away, they would never adopt a pet again. I was sure they would one day need a new dog, knowing what wonderful pet owners they were. I finally realized that they too were right. Maybe someday they will adopt another pet, but for now, they need this time to heal.

You will most likely fall somewhere between these two extremes in how new pets will fit into your life. And that is OK. Even if you do not know now does not mean you will not know. You will. And you will make the right decision when it is time to consider adding more pets to your family.

Getting to the other side of grief.

The goal is not to “get over” your pet, but to realign your life with your pet no longer physically present in it. Your heart has been broken, and it will heal, but it will heal in a different shape than it was before you knew your friend.  You would not want to have never known your pet. You would not want your life to be the same as it was before you knew your pet.

I am so sorry that you had to say goodbye. Your pet was an amazing and wonderful creature. This is going to be hard, but I promise that you will be OK. You will get through this. Your pet was so very blessed to have you.

Have you ever dealt with the loss of a pet? What helped you get through the difficult times?

Finch93Shawn Finch is a veterinarian and Mom. She works at Banfield, The Pet Hospital of Papillion. She writes for her own website (www.rileyandjames.com), Omaha.net and Carefresh. :)

Comments

Jodi (not verified) says:

September 27, 2010 : 6 years 1 day ago

Jodi's picture

One of the things we have done - as a family - (I’m Dr. Finch’s sister in law) is to have funerals for our pets, from the rats to the dogs. We are blessed to have a rural acerage where we can have a little pet cemetary. We are blessed to have a family who believes “all dogs go to heaven”, so we are able to have that closure. We all gather around the dearly departed, just as with human funerals, and cry and pray over our pet. We say goodbye, we mark their little graves and we have closure. I know some people think it’s silly, but the kids especially have closure and can say goodbye to their fur-friends.

Excellent post as always, Shawn! <3 you!

Jo M. Lynch (not verified) says:

September 27, 2010 : 6 years 1 day ago

Jo M. Lynch's picture

If you’ve lost a pet and you’re interested… there is a site that is very helpful..
http://petloss.com a community that I’ve been involved with since 1993-ish…. the very beginning, you can put your pet’s name on a list of those that have gone to rainbow bridge, you can also light candles on Monday evenings with people all around the world… we held the very first candle lighting in 1993… and you can leave a story about the pet, a comment, or just how much you miss them. If You need to talk, there is a chat room… There are many supports there on the site. Ed still maintains the site all these many years later..

Jo Lynch
 http://whimzicals.com

Finch93 says:

September 27, 2010 : 6 years 1 day ago

Finch93's picture

Thanks Jodi! Love you!! ♥ ♥ ♥

Finch93 says:

September 27, 2010 : 6 years 1 day ago

Finch93's picture

Jo-I found that site when I was writing this, and it is wonderful. I am glad that you mentioned it…I thought of including a list of resources and that would have been one! Very touching and great links.

other Mom (not verified) says:

September 27, 2010 : 6 years 1 day ago

other Mom's picture

This is the best article yet. Losing my Spunky was by far the worst because I didn’t make the choice in time to let her go to Heaven and she choose to save me the pain. And the guilt was awful. But I have the best family ever, one of who happens to be my favorite vet (Dr. Shawn)and who shared that book with me. I’m crying now remembering her. And it’s been 10 yrs!.
Keep writing, you are AWESOME!!!

Jo M. Lynch (not verified) says:

September 28, 2010 : 6 years 12 hours ago

Jo M. Lynch's picture

I’m going to share this piece… This piece is what got me into Pet Loss way back when. I first shared it on an aol forum called “All Pets Go to Heaven” way back in 1993. Maybe it will touch someone else… What it has always said to me… is, It’s OK to get another pet, and it’s OK to let go… Yes, it will make you cry, but the underlying message is a positive one… I have always loved this message, and we got permission to use it from the actual author, Jane Morris. I first found it in a Yorkie Magazine, as I’ve had Yorkies for over 30 years, all spayed, never bred one…
We in the forum group always felt that the one we lost and let go of helped us find the next one along the way… Right time, right place…
This message comforted me. I hope it helps someone who reads it…

Message From Valhalla

You were with me to the very end and even after I had “gone” you held me, and as my soul left my body and I looked down and saw you crying, I wanted so much to tell you that I understood. You did this for me.

I tried to tell you in my own way that it was time for me to leave, and I thank you for understanding. No other will take my place, but those I left behind will need your love and affection as I have had.

You still think of me, and there are times you try to hide your tear-filled eyes….but please…be happy and think not of sadness, but of how I made you happy and made you laugh at the funny and smart things I did.

There are no fences in Valhalla, for no one has the desire to “dig out”.

There are no thunderstorms in Valhalla, therefore fear is never present.

There are no fights in Valhalla. Everyone is congenial.

There is no hunger. There is no thirst. There is much to explore. Many of us who are older take care of the little ones and guide them. It’s fun watching them run with their ears flopping and their curly tails wagging.

We have four seasons in Valhalla, and most of us agree, winter is our favorite.

So you see, my loved one, I am very happy…

When it comes time for my friends to leave, I will meet them at the gates of Valhalla, and I will acquaint them with this beautiful and serene place, and I will take care of them for you.

Thank you for loving me, caring for me, and having the courage to let me go with dignity.

Jane S. Morris

Finch93 says:

September 28, 2010 : 6 years 9 hours ago

Finch93's picture

Mom-Karen-I loved Spunky Dog! I cannot believe it has been ten years. I know I told you then, but I will tell you again-She was SO blessed to have you and to be a Finch :)

Finch93 says:

September 28, 2010 : 6 years 9 hours ago

Finch93's picture

Thank you Jo M. Lynch and Jane S. Morris for that beautiful glimpse into heaven…well-said ♥

Grief Support Professional (not verified) says:

September 30, 2010 : 5 years 51 weeks ago

Grief Support Professional's picture

Dr. Shawn Finch wrote: The “traditional” five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance)…

Those “stages” were in people who were facing their own death, not those grieving a death. Please read William Worden, Therese Rando, Kenneth Doka, and other researchers who have published in the last 10 to 15 years. Also, a child’s developmental stage is important in how adults around them speak with her/him about a death.

Thank you for your good intentions, Dr., but please update your understandings so you can give people accurate information.

Finch93 says:

September 30, 2010 : 5 years 51 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

I realize that those stages were initially intended to help people process their own death, but we as veterinarians sometimes “borrow” them to explain processing grief over the loss of a pet. I did not mean to misuse the original intent, only to reference them in processing a different (though in some ways similar) sort of grief.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. was the source of the five stages template, as first published in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying” which as you said, were first meant to help those who were themselves dying, and those close to them.

If anyone is interested in the book, it can be found on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Death-Dying-Elisabeth-Kubler-Ross/dp/0684839385

I am in no way an expert on human grief! However, I do have quite a bit of experience (unfortunately)walking clients, friends and family, including children, through the process of grieving for pets. I say unfortunately, though it is also a blessing to be able to be there for people. I meant this article to be a comfort for those same people I care so much for, as well as others I may never meet in “real life.”

Jo M. Lynch (not verified) says:

September 30, 2010 : 5 years 51 weeks ago

Jo M. Lynch's picture

Good Morning… My humble opinion again….

I think any person taking the time to help others with grief should be commended. It takes time and effort to write about grief and reference it. A vet would be an excellent source of grief support in my opinion, and one of the first places I would go if I lost a beloved pet.

I understand that the writings of people, for people grief may be different, but let’s put differences aside and know that the end result is helping someone who has had a loss, be it human or pet. The ones left behind are the ones who need help and that I believe, was the point of this article.

Thanks Dr. Shawn Finch whom I have never met for trying to help others with pet loss grief support.
This is a very important issue for many who feel their animals are like family.

Thank you also “Grief Support Professional” for your kindness and understanding of this very sensitive topic. It’s good that you let us know that we don’t have the same feelings at times as those who are facing their own death do, but somehow… I do remember feeling some of those exact traits in the loss of some of my beloved animals… Not denial, but Anger because they could no longer be helped, bargaining because maybe if I bargained, they could stay with us a little bit longer, depression when the we finally had to let go, and finally acceptance when the inevitable came about…

Thank you both for talking about the fact that grief is a part of life and we do need to find ways to work through it, cope with it… The more it is talked about, the better it is for those who need help to find it and find they can talk about it and work their way through it….

Jo
 http://whimzicals.com

Anonymous (not verified) says:

September 30, 2010 : 5 years 51 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

Thank you Jo. You were much kinder than what I wanted to say to the grief professional. I hope I never have get help from a cold hearted person, who has to be so proper!!!

Nadine (not verified) says:

September 30, 2010 : 5 years 51 weeks ago

Nadine's picture

I lost my beautiful pug in January of this year. She was 18 years old and I had her for 15 years. Needless to say she was a huge part of my life, and I miss her everyday. I had to make that incredibly painful decision, and yes, I felt guilt for it, I also felt guilt that maybe I waited longer than I should have to do it, but I finally came to terms with it, because I knew that I couldn’t have loved her anymore than I did, and her well being was always my main concern.

I was heartbroken..but after some healing time, I have brought another dog into my life, this time a puppy. She came home on August 13th, almost 7 months after my loss. I am a dog person, and I needed & wanted that presence in my life, it just took me a little while to jump in again. I have fully jumped in, I am even blogging the whole experience!!

The Dog Ten Commandments (#10) was very helpful for me:
 http://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/4564/33.html

Finch93 says:

October 11, 2010 : 5 years 50 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Nadine…I LOVE it! http://adogsage.com/

It is difficult to lose a friend no matter what your dog’s age isn’t it? Eighteen! Wow, you should be commended :) Your Pugs are so blessed to have such a wonderful Mom.

Finch93 says:

October 11, 2010 : 5 years 50 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Oh, and thank you for the link to The Dog Ten Commandments. We have that up in every exam room and often get requests for copies. I love it.

Finch93 says:

October 16, 2010 : 5 years 49 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Fuzzy Rat died this past week. http://rileyandjames.com/blog/2010/10/16/fuzzy-rat/
She became ill while I was writing this article, and at the time, I was afraid I was writing it in part for myself, which now I suppose I was. She was a wonderful little rat, and we will miss her very much.

Jo M. Lynch (not verified) says:

October 17, 2010 : 5 years 49 weeks ago

Jo M. Lynch's picture

Many warm and gentle hugs… This most difficult journey for the humans to part with their furry friends. We’ll light a candle here on Monday night to remember Fuzzy Rat…

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Fuzzy Rat wasn’t met at the bridge by a passel of little Yorkies. They’ll show Fuzzy Rat the way around, where the coldest freshest water is, where the peanut butter and cheese bushes grow and where the fun places to play chase and run are. All creatures great and small get along at the bridge. Fuzzy will have much company and good health once again.

Run with the winds now Fuzzy Rat and run free……

Jo, Winnie Pooh and Dakota Summer
———————————————————-
 http://whimzicals.com

Finch93 says:

October 17, 2010 : 5 years 49 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Thank you Jo!! ♥

Marty Tousley (not verified) says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

Marty Tousley's picture

As a grief counselor who also specializes in pet loss, I hope you’ll permit me to address the comments about the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, famous author of the book “On Death and Dying.” Since that book was first published (in 1969), many people have taken her findings much too literally, expecting the dying process to occur in neatly ordered stages, one following the other. As wonderful as her groundbreaking work in death and dying was, her “stages” model was never meant to apply to those who are in mourning. Her studies were focused on patients who were terminally ill and dying. Unfortunately, this is a common mistake that is found repeatedly in the literature still today. But there has been a wealth of research done since Kubler-Ross’ pioneering work that focuses specifically on bereavement, loss and grief. We now know that grief is the normal response to the death of a loved one, whether that is a person or a cherished companion animal, and it doesn’t happen in neatly ordered “stages” as such. Most of us who specialize in grief counseling understand and prefer to think of grief as the personal experience of the loss, and mourning as a process (not a single event) that can affect us in every dimension of our lives: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial. Everyone’s grief journey is unique, and there is no specific time-frame for it. The problem with adhering to the Stages theory is that many bereaved folks soon discover that it simply does not fit their experience, which often leads them to conclude that there is something wrong with them, as if they’re “not doing it right.” There simply is no right or wrong way to “do” grief ~ there is only OUR way, and we each must discover that for ourselves. Although grief is different for each individual, having the support of others and knowing what reactions to expect and how to manage them can be very helpful.

MartyT says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

MartyT's picture

I just wanted to add that readers who are interested are most welcome to visit my Grief Healing Web site, at www.griefhealing.com

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

Hi Marty. Sometimes having the “stages” to reference as a starting point helps during grief over losing pets, though I realize they were originally meant to help people process their own death. People are taken back when they experience anger during grief (I thought I would just be sad…) for example. I think anything that help us cope is wonderful - not the beginning and end of grief, just another tool.

You are right - there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We have lost five pets in the last several months and I have had to come back to some of the things that have helped clients and friends in the past!

I have processed this season a bit “outloud” on my website, but mostly just day-by-day at home - I have found having friends and family surround me has been so helpful.

MartyT says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

MartyT's picture

Hi Shawn! Having worked with bereaved animal lovers for many years, I can say without reservation that anger and guilt are two of the most common reactions in the grief that accompanies pet loss. People feel angry about all sorts of things, and the reasons may vary from one day to the next: We may be angry at the pet for leaving us; angry at the surviving pet for not being the one who died; angry at the veterinarian for failing to save our pet; or angry at ourselves for not doing enough. We may direct our anger at people who still have their pets because they’re not suffering as we are. We may be angry at God for letting our pet get sick and die. Sometimes we’ll just be angry that the sun is shining and everyone else thinks it’s a beautiful day. For some of us, feeling angry may be preferable to feeling the hurt and pain of loss. In any case, it’s important to remember that such feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad — they just ARE. Instead of judging ourselves or censoring such feelings when they come up, better simply to acknowledge them as normal. We can also find ways to discharge the negative energy that comes with anger, without hurting others: Take time out to count to ten. Pound a pillow or tear up an old telephone book. Clean the house; wash the car; take a brisk walk around the block; play racquet ball or tennis; chop wood or paddle a canoe. Find someplace private and safe where we can go to cry, yell, or scream at the top of our lungs, and let all our emotions out.
Guilt is yet another story. See my article, “Loss and the Burden of Guilt,” http://www.griefhealing.com/article-loss-and-the-burden-of-guilt.htm

Finch93 says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Thanks Marty. You have some wonderful things to share on your website (and in Real Life, I am sure) - personal and professional and resources. Thank you for being there for people experiencing loss (including me!) I am glad I have gotten to “meet” you.

Finch93 says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

…and very well said - “Loss and the Burden of Guilt,” http://www.griefhealing.com/article-loss-and-the-burden-of-guilt.htm

Guilt is a big complicator of grief for clients and friends…and me. You articulate that well and provide really helpful ways to work through that. Thank you.

MartyT says:

March 24, 2011 : 5 years 26 weeks ago

MartyT's picture

Thank you for your very kind words, Shawn. I should have noted earlier how sorry I am to learn of the multiple losses you’ve endured over the last few months ~ that is a heavy burden to bear. It’s also the stuff of which deep empathy is made, and clearly that is what you are doing with your own grief: finding meaning in your losses and using your experience to support others who come to you for support and understanding. You are my kind of veterinarian! Lovely to have met you, too, my dear ♥

Anonymous (not verified) says:

May 7, 2013 : 3 years 20 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

13 years ago my wife and my daughter came home and asked me to come outside because someone was selling little dogs, ( Lasha apso) I said no, not because I did not want a pet , but because I knew that the time would come that I would have to decide to end the dogs life…13 years later (I had finally said yes) We had the most wonderful years , great friend, more than a pet..She got sick, very sick, I tried so hard to keep her, I spent thousands of dollars, people told me that I was stupid, that it was just a dog,,,just a dog..no way..She was in hospital for two days, was diabetic, We thought we could manage that. On a friday night I got a call from the vet she had taken for the worst, they showed me the x-rays , water on the lungs etc, I saw her she could not breath, etc , I was shock how fast she had gone. The vet talk to me and I agreed what had to be done, my family could not be there, to hard on them, I took 20 minutes to thank and say good bye to the best friend I ever had. I must tell you that I am from a family of hunters, I am the only one who does not hunt, I do not even kill a spider, I am just different. To make the call of ending my friends life was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, It has been three days, I still hurt , and will most likely still for a long time, Will I ever get another pet NO. I must admit that I am to selfish, I can not stand the hurt ever. I want to add that some people say that the VETS only want money, no there was two doctors with me and I saw tears in there eyes.So for anyone who reads this, Yes it is painful, I will not lie, Hope this will help, but remember you will never have a better friend, and that is why it hurts, good bye MISSY

Anonymous (not verified) says:

May 8, 2013 : 3 years 20 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

Go to http://petloss.com and you can write a memorial for your pet and you can join others lighting candles on Monday nights… Your Missy is running in the green fields of the Rainbow Bridge now, once again healthy and feeling no pain or illness… Blessings…

Tammy (not verified) says:

August 18, 2013 : 3 years 5 weeks ago

Tammy's picture

My dog OG died 3 days ago I’m completely crushed she was a rat terrier. I live in Omaha, NE. I figure anyone on this site is looking for comfort. If u are only in the USA contact me. I think perhaps talking an sharing on out our pets will help us. U can also text me at 4024159932

If u live in the Omaha, NE. Area even better.

I wish everyone going thru this peace an my heart felt condolences. I know how it is to be shattered cuz I am:”(

Tammy (not verified) says:

August 22, 2013 : 3 years 5 weeks ago

Tammy's picture

Well, it’s Tammy again,I’m from Omaha, NE. it’s been 1 week to the day since my Rat Terrier OG died. I loved her with all my heart and miss her terribly! I will never get over this. She was first diagnosed with Anemia on June 29th 2013 she was put on Prednisone, well, on Tuesday Aug. 13th she got sick and on the 14th she was taken to the pet hospital and died the next day. I’m not looking to blame anyone, but I’m not exactly happy with the service at the vet clinic. The only thing I know is to write about her to keep her alive. I miss her terribly. I haven’t had the best of luck lately either, I need a job. I have done medical billing and worked every position in the office. I have a BS in Communications with my 2ndary area in medical an psych….anyway enough about me…I’m here mainly to talk about OG. Well, apparently she had cancer throughout her body, but we did not know it. I really would like to talk with people that love their pets as much as I do and consider their pets their babies like me. It won’t be long and it will be a month, year and so on since she has died. Sometimes I ask myself if there really is a god, why do we all suffer??? Why do we all have to experience pain? I will never, ever get past this. I have a memorial at my house. I put in a corner a picture of her, her collar, her urn and her foot prints I have. I feel I have to keep her alive that way cuz I never want to forget her. I’m 48 years old and it never gets easier, it all depends on how much you love your pet and how much they really mean to you! I hope others can reach out to me about their situation and maybe we can help each other by talking an trying to understand. I love you OG with all my heart and if I could have you with me right now, that would be the case!

Please contact me if you would like to talk about what your going thru as well!

I won’t list my phone number here, but you can email me at tammyvirgilito [at] yahoo [dot] com and we can go from there. Like I said I live in Omaha, NE. and if you happen to live there better yet. If anyone lives out of the USA probably shouldn’t contact because we can’t talk on the phone and can’t meet in person ever so better just to stick to our own countries

Thanks for reading!