We know how traumatic it is when a family member dies, and the people around us are usually very sympathetic and quick to offer their support. But what about when we lose a much loved pet like a dog or a cat? People often don't treat this as seriously, and many fail to appreciate just how much it is possible to love our pets. The death of a pet can be every bit as traumatic to the owner as losing a member of their family. When some of the people around us take the attitude, "Well, it was only a dog/cat" or "At least it wasn't a person", it shows a complete lack of understanding or empathy on their part, (and to be honest I think less of them for that).
I decided to write this hub because I am one of those people who does feel like my pets are family members. I have cried many tears over the death of various pets I have shared my life with over the years, and I still firmly believe we should be given compassionate leave by our employers when a significant family pet dies, in much the same way as compassionate leave is granted to employees who have lost a significant human family member!
People often ask the question 'How do you get over the death of a much loved pet?', and this is my humble attempt to explain how I have managed to cope with the grief and not be deterred from adopting further pets in spite of the pain I know I will one day have to endure when they die.
Some of you may have read a hub I wrote a few years ago called 'My Beloved Dog Died Yesterday' where I shared the story of our lovely rescue Greyhound 'Lady' and the depth of love we had for her right up to the very sad day when she had to be put to sleep. As a former veterinary assistant I was the one who raised her vein for that final injection that would end her suffering. She went 'to sleep' at home, with all her family/pack around her, lying in her favourite spot on her beanbag. All she would have felt for that final day was an overwhelming sense of love being directed towards her. Just typing this still brings tears to my eyes, and Lady has a very special place in all of our hearts, (as would any other much loved family member that had passed away.)
Lady was far from the first pet I had lost though, and before Lady I had lived through the death of at least four dogs and five cats, plus another cat since Lady died. Every time these deaths took place my immediate knee jerk reaction was to state I would never have another pet because when they died it was just too painful to bear, yet every time I have ended up with cats or dogs again. As I sit here now I have one of our two cats asleep on the couch next to me, and no doubt the other one is fast asleep on my bed or soon will be. You see I am one of those people who functions better and is more content with a life that includes animals in my home. I feel like 'half a person' unless my life has either dogs or cats included in my day to day existence. In other words I firmly believe the time I spend loving, and being loved by my dogs and cats makes me a better and nicer person. I can categorically say I would probably have committed suicide after my first Husband died from Bowel Cancer if it hadn't been for the two dogs we had at the time. They gave me the love and support I needed at a time when my family were living in Guernsey and I was living in England, and I will never forget the comfort they were to me.
How Can I Ease the Pain I Am Feeling?
So when one of your loyal and loving companions dies, how do you get over the death of your beloved pet? I believe that the answer is 'you don't', well at least not in a way that means the pain is gone entirely. At best you learn to cope with the loss, and over time the pain dulls to some degree. Eventually you reach a point where you can remember your deceased pet with smiles and laughs over the funny or cute habits they had, and looking through photos of them will no longer immediately reduce you to tears.
It is important to remind yourself of the wonderful gift they gave to you by being a part of your life, and ask yourself if you had known how much it was going to hurt when you lost them would you still have adopted them? I am guessing you would go through it all again just to have experienced those years of joy that having them gave to you, not to mention all the wonderful memories they left you with.
If you have spiritual beliefs then I hope you are as convinced as I am that there is a place in the next life, heaven or whatever you wish to call it, for our deceased pets no matter how large or small they are. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and if you have ever looked into the eyes of your doting pet dog you will know that he or she must have a soul. The strong belief that one day I will be reunited with not only my lost human family members, but also my lost furry friends is what helps me to get over their deaths to the degree I can.
I have always found two pieces of writing an enormous comfort when one of my much loved pets has died, and although these passages may already be familiar to you, I am sure you won't mind reading them again, and perhaps even passing them on to someone you know who has recently lost a dog or a cat. Both can either be read in full on my 'My Beloved Dog Died Yesterday' Hub, or can be read online at the following locations:
Should I Get a New Dog or Cat?
I would never suggest that after your pet dies and you could get over the death by rushing out and getting another one to replace them. The bottom line is that you can't replace them, (any more than you could replace a dead child simply by having another one.) The two pets (or children) would be different, they would each have their own personalities and unique qualities. However, that said, once you have allowed yourself time to grieve and for the tears to slow down, then you might well find getting another dog or cat will offer a great deal of comfort and will at least help to take your mind off the one you have lost. In time you will grow to love your new pet just as much as the old one, but for different qualities and character traits. You will be just as sad when this one finally passes on, and you will remember both pets with genuine love and affection, (and no doubt still shed a tear for them even years after they died.)
How Can I Pay Tribute to My Deceased Pet?
You might find it eases your pain if you do something that will allow you to immortalize your lost pet in some special way. Perhaps you could get a tattoo of your pet on your body somewhere. You can even get the tattoo artist to include some of the dog or cat's ashes in the ink so that your pet becomes quite literally a part of you that goes with you everywhere.
You could have an artist draw you a pencil sketch of your pet copied from a favorite photograph and then frame this and hang it on your wall. I did this for two of my dogs, and the resulting sketches were beautiful. They were drawn by fellow hubber rvsource and yes this did cost a small fee, but they were worth every penny and his talent is quite extraordinary.
Consider getting a very special headstone made for your pet. Again I did this for a doberman I lost called 'Odin'. The headstone was made of Cumbrian slate and I had it engraved with his name, his birth and death dates and the message 'A great friend, sadly missed'. It cost me over £70 at the time, but it still covers the spot where his ashes are buried in my parent's garden, and it allows me a special place I can go and visit him and talk to him occasionally.
Plant a tree over your pet's grave, and as it flourishes you will know that the tree is now a symbol of new life coming from old. Again this is a tribute that allows you to visit your pet whenever you want to and feel comforted by the presence of the new life that is coming from your pets remains. In a way it will feel as if your pet lives on within the tree.
Why not put a wooden bench by your pet's grave with a memorial plaque screwed to it, and perhaps even a photo of your dog or cat in a waterproof window inlaid into the wood. You can then sit there and talk to him or her whenever the pain of your loss is particularly hard to bear.
There are many more ideas I could suggest to act as memorials for your pets, and many of them also apply to human family members you have lost. I wrote a comprehensive hub of ideas for memorials called Ideas for Memorials and Tributes to Our Lost Loved Ones if you want to get some more ideas. Another similar article I wrote focused on novelty ideas for what to do with your deceased loved one's ashes.