How to handle the loss of a pet

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Animal family members are destined to a much shorter life span than your own. It is completely necessary to accept the given life span of your pets to prepare and understand that they will leave this world.

Even if you give your pet the best possible care, its life cannot be extended beyond what is written into its species. Time is a two-edged sword, it is a "gift" when given us to share with all that we hold dear, and it is also the gatekeeper that takes all things to their final end here.

The moment that arrives when one must be separated from his or her animal companion by its impending death is as hard to face for some as is the loss of a beloved family member. Today, this is being realized in most grief counseling circles. People who do not understand the human/pet bond probably won't understand your feelings. Don't worry about that. All that matters is how you feel.

What can you do when the time comes to say goodbye to your pet? How do you prepare for the moment? How is grief best handled? When does the healing process take place?

Saying goodbye:

  • Accept that you cannot fully prepare for the moment, but, that you can unite your heart with so many other pet owners who have loved and lost their family pets too.
  • Move honestly and lovingly with preparations to release your pet from its suffering. Euthanasia for a suffering pet is a gift of love.
  • Helplessness is part of the feeling. Now more than ever, you must allow yourself to be involved, to offer back to your pet the unconditional love it has given you just by being present to it. This is a very human moment.
  • Whatever grief you are feeling now is a sign of your deep love for your pet.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Don't criticize. Allow yourself to only offer love for the moment.

Handling the grief:

  • There are no absolutes in grieving, no definitive stages. Grief is the natural reaction to loss. It is a process to be lived.
  • Move in "doses" as you acknowledge the reality of the death. The loss of your pet takes you into the realm of recognizing the finite existence of all life here. Acknowledge the reality of death but continue in the bond of love. Understand that this is a process of reconciling yourself to life without your pet.
  • The hardest human decision you will make is to embrace the pain of having lost your animal "best friend." This is the basis of your humanity.
  • Feel free to express your emotions and memories. It has been shown that when grief can be expressed, the healing process is shortened.
  • Grief takes as long as it takes.

The healing process:

  • Healing always begins when you are able to acknowledge your true feelings and share with someone else. To share with caring friends and relatives allows for encouragement and for you to acknowledge your feelings.
  • Because everyone brings different beliefs to the losses in their life, the healing process moves in cultural and spiritual dimensions.
  • Give yourself permission to move ahead. You will find that the love you shared with your pet lives on in your memory and more importantly, in your spirit.
  • The greatest power to heal is love!

The human spirit and intellect has the ability to open the heart and mind to the renewal of a new day. The faith that fortifies us as we face walking the boundaries between this life and the next with our pet loved ones can only give us courage and deepen our loving relationship with our pet as we share the love that forever keeps us connected.

About the author:

Susi Pittman is the author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know! and founder of Catholic Stewards of Creation. For the past 26 years Pittman has worked with a number of animal and ecological organizations and currently has 14 rescued pets. She is a Roman Catholic layman active in various ministries of the Diocese of Saint Augustine, Fla. Pittman has a background in journalism and communications. To learn more about her book, please visit