Your beloved pet has passed away. Maybe you had to make the choice to end their life because you wanted to stop them from suffering, or maybe they were killed in an accident, ate the wrong thing, or just died from old age.
Most of our pets don’t really live very long, compared to people. Yet, they have such a huge impact on our lives. Research has shown that the human-pet bond is so strong that a 1988 study indicated dog owners tended to place their closeness to their dog as greater than their closeness to any relative!
Why? Pets give constant, unconditional love and companionship. Their needs and wants are simple; food, water, shelter, attention and love. They are totally dependent on us to meet their requirements, and when they are gone they leave an enormous black hole. The relationship with a pet is uncomplicated. They don’t argue with you about money or sex or politics. They don’t withhold love because you worked too late. They don’t judge you. They’re just happy you are there.
Because they can’t talk, and therefore can’t tell you if they have pain, or feel ill, it is common to feel guilt after the loss of a pet. You wonder, “Did they know I loved them?” or “Did I do everything I should have?”.
It has been said that “grief is passive and mourning is active”, so what can you do to mourn the loss of your pet? When my 8 year old airedale terrier, Jack, suddenly died after going to sleep next to me on the couch, my family and I made a scrapbook of his life. Every day we took turns making a page, using cut outs from many of the photos we had taken of him. On our day we told the others a little story about an expereince with Jack. After about 10 days we had settled into passive grief, but for the first days it was so hard to come home and not see Jack there, wagging and wiggling.
We took his many toys, collar and leash, water and food bowls, and set them in his doghouse. We talked about him frequently, and were grateful he didn’t suffer (the vet thought he’d had a heart attack). We had his remains cremated and buried them in the backyard, planting a peach tree on the spot.
About 6 months later, we brought Oscar home. Oscar was three months old, and another airedale. A few months later he ate that baby peach tree, in a frenzy of chewing.
I am writing about the loss of a dog, but know the pain of cat loss many times over, and bird loss when my 16 year old cockatiel, Chicken, passed away. Each time there was a big hole. Grief about the loss of a pet is deep, and it is real. There is no prescribed “right” time frame for recovery.
Be respectful of your grief; it is real.