A PET IS A FAMILY MEMBER TOO
A pet is often a member of the family. In fact, surveys show some interesting facts about pet owners: 84 percent consider their animals family members; 99 percent talk to their pets and 54 % celebrate their pets birthday.
The term “man’s best friend” brings to mind unconditional love, constant companionship and acceptance.
With your capacity to love your pet comes the necessity to grieve when that “best friend” dies. The death of a pet is a traumatic experience. There is a need to grieve at this time and to do so in a healthy way.
A PET’S DEATH IS SIGNIFICANT
No, it’s not “just a dog”. It is a family member, and the death is a significant loss. Unfortunately, society often denies you the need to grieve, and, as a result, your grief may be hidden, buried, or ignored. Your family needs to grieve the death of your pet by expressing your feelings, no matter how painful, outside of yourselves.
MEMORIES ARE THE BEST LEGACIES
Memories are one of the best legacies after the death of a pet. Your pet entertained, comforted, frustrated but always loved you. Remember those times. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry. Remember that memories made in love can never be taken away. Each family member probably had a unique relationship with the pet. Allow for different emotional responses within the family, and be careful to respect each person’s need to grieve in his or her own way.
SHOULD YOU CHOOSE EUTHANASIA ?
When you love your pet, no question is more difficult than whether or not to euthanize. Yet this difficult choice is often the right one, particularly if your pet is in agonizing pain or the quality of life has deteriorated. Sometimes the cost of the treatment for a particular disease has also become prohibitive.
Love them enough to let them go in dignity and peace. Talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia. Fortunately, painless procedures can end needless suffering for both you and your pet. If you have always treated your pet with gentleness and love, don’t stop now.
Some owners want to be present when their pets are euthanized; some do not. We suggest that they have always been with you , and feel safe in your presence. Let them leave with your face in their eyes, feeling safe and loved. Don’t let them leave in fear.
CHILDREN NEED TO BE INVOLVED
The death of a pet is often the first opportunity parents have to help children during times of grief. Unfortunately, parents often don’t want to talk about the death assuming that by doing so, the children will be spared some of the pain and sadness.
Children, however, are entitled to grieve for their pets, and emotionally need to do so. Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve. And many children love their pets with all their hearts. As an adult, if you are open, honest, and loving, experiencing the death of a pet can be a chance for children to learn about both the joy – and the pain – that comes from caring deeply for pets or for people.
You may not experience the same depth of loss as your children when a family pet dies. You must still respect their grief and allow them to express it without feeling abandoned. Your response during this time can make the difference whether children’s first exposure to death will be a positive or a negative part of emotional growth and development.
OLDER ADULTS HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS
For older adults, the relationship with a pet is often the most meaningful relationship they have in their lives. The death of the pet can have a significant impact, particularly if the older adult is isolated from human contact. Under these circumstances, the pet becomes a “very best friend”.
When the pet dies, the experience may trigger old griefs from losses encountered through life. It is imperative that family and friends are sensitive to the older adult’s needs during this time. Respond with warmth and understanding and let them “teach you” about the special relationship with their beloved pet.
PREMATURE REPLACEMENT CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS
Be careful of premature replacement. You need time to grieve and to heal when your pet dies. A new pet demands your energy and attention which at some point you may be ready and willing to give. Right now, however, you should first attend to your grief.
Be especially careful about premature replacement of pets with children. It sends a message to a child that says when something is lost, all that you have to do is buy another one. In reality, that is often not the case. It also devalues the significance of the pet that just died.
When the family is ready for a new pet, involve the children in the discussion and selection so they can feel a part of the decision.
Many times, moving to another home involves leaving the graves of beloved pets behind. Often this is a source of emotional pain and even feelings of “abandoning” the memories.
Many communities have pet cremation facilities available for a reasonable cost (in our area, $150 - $200) ,and these provide the ability to “take them with you”. We have found that, personally, it has been a good choice for us. Our local facility provides an attractive wooden urn which allows for a photograph of the pet, with an engraved nameplate. We have “memorial shelves” in our homes, which trigger frequent happy trips down “memory lane”.
Our local facility in West Tennessee is Medina Funeral Home.
302 W Church Ave
Medina, TN 38355
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
Pets don’t criticize or judge you. They just love and accept you unconditionally.
When a pet dies, you and your family must accept the need to grieve. Even though others around you may attempt to minimize your grief, the hurt must be embraced to be lessoned. Be patient and tolerant as you slowly move toward healing.
Lovers of animals.
The website guy for BBAR and full-time District Executive with Boy Scouts of America.