The loss of a loved pet is traumatic and grief can feel overwhelming. For many of us a pet is a much loved family member and we grieve them as part of our family. Coping with their loss can be difficult and you may feel you will never get over the heartbreak and grief.
When the worst happens
My beautiful dog Poppy died unexpectedly in August last year and the sudden absence of her after 13 years was very difficult to cope with. Animals play a special part in my life and I build very strong bonds with them. Poppy was with me in 4 different houses and we moved interstate together.
She loved to go for walks and wanted to be with me all the time. Poppy was such good company and also fun to be around. It has been difficult to come to terms with her absence.
Pets give us unconditional love and companionship
Poppy was always so happy to see me when I came home and would be on the verandah every day barking a welcome. She also slept next to me and as a single person, gave me much joy and many hugs.
The bond we have with our domestic animals can be extremely close, and some people don’t understand the depth of grief we can feel so we feel the need to hide our feelings soon after the death of our pet. I believe all animals are individuals and I have different relationships with all of them as individuals.
Sheep and chickens are also pets I have, but my bond with my dog was so much closer. Dogs are so adapted to living with humans and know how to communicate their needs with us. They are protective and loyal and require so little in comparison to what they give us. I miss her more than words can say and really wish I could still be with her and hug her. Her funny ways and the way she used to look down her nose at me will always be fond memories. She was full of sass and attitude which I loved about her.
As a puppy she chewed up everything in my house, but was so cute, I just couldn’t be mad at her. She was with me when my dog Bella died of cancer, and this softened the blow to some extent, but now, I have no dog for the first time in 30 years and it feels very lonely.
How to cope with pet loss
It is over 6 months since her passing and I still keenly feel her absence. I look for her at times and the silence is deafening when I get home each day. I am trying to be grateful for the 13 years I had with her, but just wanted more….
If you are sadly also struggling with the loss of a much loved pet, I have found some strategies that do help.
Actions to help you heal after Pet Loss
- Join a facebook group or other pet loss group. There are some of these groups in most countries – The Pet Loss and Grief Support Group (Australia) allows you to express your grief and memories of all types of pets. You can also leave messages of support for other members also grieving their pets. I found it very comforting to know that other people loved their animals as much as I did, and that I am not overreacting or abnormal.
- If you are struggling with your grief, it may be an idea to book a session with a counselor. There are now counselors who specialize in pet loss and it may help to express how you are feeling.
- Speak with and get support from family members or friends who understand how difficult pet loss is.
- Dedicate a memorial area in your home with some of your pets things. I am keeping a jacket, Poppy’s collar, a picture of her and her ashes. Sometimes I burn a candle or incense when I am thinking of her.
- If you buried your pet, add some small memorial statues or plaques to mark their grave.
- Make sure you have some keepsakes if you feel connected to your pets items. I kept some of Poppy’s hair and purchased a memorial urn pendant to keep a tiny amount of her hair in. These can also contain a small portion of ashes, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I wear the pendant whenever I go out and it helps me to feel close to her. There are many companies who do this and it is possible to find a lovely pendant or other keepsake in many different price ranges. I found a lovely heart pendant at Keepsake Jewellery, but if you google pet cremation jewellery there are many choices out there.
- I also had the crematorium make a paw print for me in some plaster which I can keep
- Write a letter to your pet or keep a journal. I bought a small hard backed journal to keep and I am writing down all my memories of Poppy. I am particularly writing about all the happy memories rather than focusing on her death.
- I am donating some of her blankets and leads to a dog rescue group and intend to volunteer at the refuge to help in dog walking. I think this will help the healing process and being around dogs is always a positive experience for me. Dogs live in the moment and its hard to be sad when they are clearly enjoying themselves!
- Get involved with other animals such as volunteering as a wildlife rescuer or working at a farm sanctuary. All animals deserve to be cared for and are no different to our domestic animals in that respect.
Moving on from grief
Some people get another dog quickly – a friend got a dog of the same breed within a week of euthanizing their 16 year old dog. There is no right or wrong here, some people find having a new dog helps. For myself, I need to fully grieve the dog I lost and usually it takes me a couple of years until I feel I am ready for a another dog.
As much as it is appealing to look for another dog, what I really want is my dog back and another dog won’t be her…. I may foster a dog next year though, although knowing me, it would probably end in adoption!!
In the meantime, I am able to travel about and not have to worry about having Poppy looked after if I am going somewhere dogs can’t go, so there is a little more freedom in not being a pet owner.
On balance I don’t know if I want another dog. Its excruciating when they go, but the joy and love they give you is definitely worth the pain. I hadn’t started to imagine life without her, as although she was 13 she had always been well, so I was totally unprepared.
Hopefully she is somewhere close by and knows I love her. I have lost a number of family members over the years and she was one of them.
Goodbye my gorgeous Poppy. I will always think of you with a smile and wish you were here.
1st July 2009 – 23rd August 2022