A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

Losing a pet: Grieving the loss of a friend

Losing a pet can be one of the most painful experiences a person can have. There is much talk in today's world about unconditional love. It would be wonderful if human beings were capable of such a thing. The sad truth is that we fall short of the mark. While unconditional love is probably impossible, it is a wonderful goal and we should continue to strive for it.

Unconditional Love

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In reality, the closest thing to unconditional love we ever perceive is that which we sense from our pets. Even then, there are a few conditions. After we have fed them and their other basic needs have been met, animals are unconditional. We have yet to hear that someone's dog, cat, parakeet or hamster judged them or criticized them or called them stupid.

What we do know is that people tell their most intimate secrets to their pets. What we do know is that people express their truest and deepest emotions to their pets, often much more so than they ever express them to friends or family. We know how incredibly important pets can be to people. We know millions of people who, unable to have children, have been able to have some of the wonderful and natural parental type feelings for their pets. We know an awful lot about how attached people become to their pets. 

More importantly, we know how devastating the death of a pet can be. We know how grieving pet owners are often abused by well-meaning friends who say insensitive things. The purpose of this article is to help grieving pet owners complete their relationship to the pain caused by the death of their pet. And, to assist friends of grievers with more helpful and supportive information about recovery from one of life's most significant losses.

We are all familiar with the expression that starts with; "I was unhappy about having no shoes until I met a man who had no feet..." While well intentioned, that parable sets up one of the most massive pieces of misinformation in our society. It teaches us to compare our feelings in order to minimize them. And, followed to its logical conclusion, there can only be one griever---the one with the most horrible list of losses.

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Losing a pet can be devastating

Grieving pet owners, met with the constant line, "it was only a pet," are set up to compare their feelings to those they may have had when a parent or grandparent died. And if that is not enough, they are then told to "go out and get another pet," or replace the loss. No one would be insensitive enough to tell you to go out and "get another mom" if your mother died, would they? On the other hand, when a baby dies, the parents are often told, "don't feel bad, you're young, you can have other children."

Our human responses to death are normal and natural. Since we have been taught to hide or mask our natural reactions to loss, we often feel that there is something wrong with us when we experience intense feelings. Death of a pet often produces incredibly powerful emotions.

The emotions attached to grieving the loss are normal, but society's treatment of the grieving pet owner is not normal; losing a pet is often treated as a discounted loss or as disenfranchised grief. We must strive to normalize that which is normal. Otherwise, we continue to drive grievers' feelings underground, buried for fear of being considered "weak."

As a friend of someone who has recently experienced the death of a pet, please remember that their heart is broken. All grief is experienced at 100%. There are no half grievers. Do not try to minimize their pain.

Recovery from the pain caused by death of a pet, as with all other losses, must include the process of discovering and completing all unfinished emotional business. This process is detailed in The Grief Recovery Handbook and our Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss.

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If you found this article helpful, you may want to also read these articles from our searchable Grief Blog:

Pet Loss Grief: You can't replace a loved one and you can't replace a beloved pet either

Pet loss is an often discounted grief

 

Comments

I still miss my kitty I had in 1977, who died in 1981. She was the first cat I ever had, and I'm not sure if that's why I still miss her so much, but what I liked most about her is that she didn't care that I had a disability (that was later corrected through operations), didn't laugh at or make fun of me for it.

I treated her nice and she loved me in return. In that simple way, it seems like animals are nicer than some people.

Thanks for this great summary of some of the issues around losing an animal companion. Vicki, I'm so very sorry for your loss - you must miss such a loving friend deeply. You are not alone in believing that we have much to learn from animals about, well, love!

Dear Vicki and Eliza,


Thank you both for participating in our comments.


We'd like to add a little bit of humor that in a sweet way explains the kind of love and acceptance we get from our pets. Your dog or cat never once said you were stupid or ugly. They wagged their tail or rubbed up against your leg and said, "I'm glad you're home, now let's have some dinner and then a little cuddle."


On a more emotional note, the pets allow us to access and express our most powerful feelings of love, sometimes things that we don't always feel safe enough to say to other people.


In closing, let me recite my favorite prayer: "Lord, please let me be half the man my dog thinks I am."


From our hearts to yours,


Russell and John

I miss my FREDDIE! Wonderful cat! @ 2 years {male} old! Urinary blockage. Died after $1200 surgery! Plus the cost of the vet charging me for food and meds. I love my FREDDIE! Hope there is a kitty heaven!

Thanks Russel for Your heartful words and humor!

Our dog, Bobo has died 2 days before, our hearts have broken. She were with us through the toughest 12 years of my life, and loved us with all her heart.


Say Hello to your Hungarian Vizsla!


With Love,


Emőke from The Hungarian Grief Recovery Center

I have just finished the Grief Recovery Method training in Australia, I have been a vet nurse for over 20 years... I wish all vets got this training at vet school, because, like many people, they never know the "right thing to say" to people who have lost a pet, or had to euthenase a pet. I cant wait to get the word out there!! Thanks for putting together such a fantastic program
Tracey, on behalf of John and Cole and myself, THANK YOU! If we could send giant hugs along with our gratitude, we would. And you can bet your life savings that we would love to train all the vet nurses and techs in Australia if we can get the chance. Best, Russell
This past year my mother died (unexpectedly) and a few months later my 2 year old cat became critically ill. He also died. I am still reeling from the (one-two) punch and am unable to grieve my pet. It is too, too painful. I cry whenever I think of him and don't know where to put all this pain.
Dear Sandy. I just lost my loyal companion of 14 years two days ago. I am crying as I type this. The level of grief is a shock to me. I fully understand what you are going through. I'm by no means an expert but I know what a broken heart is. Your pain is coming from the love you shared with your cat. No one should have to go through what you have been dealt. I am so sorry for the loss of your mother and your pet. It might be possible you are grieving both and just don't know it. I do know this: I think the terrible pain we currently share will one day give way to the good times and strong love we shared with our companions. My love and sympathy to you.
I just lost my dear Fox Terrier and companion of 14 years. I am blessed to have had her this long but this also has made the shock of losing her even worse. Just a few days ago she we sitting with me on the couch. I am now holding her ashes in an urn. I am beside myself. I still see her all over the house. I don't know how to fill the time we went for walks. Her dog food is still in the closet. The amount of pain I'm experiencing along with the guilt that I did not take good care of her is just consuming me. I just don't know how to handle this. I need help.
I lost my rescue cat Hannah about two weeks ago. She was a beautiful Sphynx cat. She died suddenly probably from a heart condition. I cried for days. I don't think people understand the depth of my grief. I miss her so much. Thank you for letting me vent. She slept every night tucked under my chin purring in my ear. -Phyllis
I lost my rescue cat Hannah about two weeks ago. She was a beautiful Sphynx cat. She died suddenly probably from a heart condition. I cried for days. I don't think people understand the depth of my grief. I miss her so much. Thank you for letting me vent. She slept every night tucked under my chin purring in my ear. -Phyllis
Two days ago I just lost my 16 years old cat Chrissy to a stroke. . I can't stop crying. My heart is broken. I had to make the decision not to let her suffer, it was so hard. I loved her more than I can explain. She was the world to me. I held her to the very end. I'm so sad. I can't explain how it hurts. I'm 83 years.
Two days ago I just lost my 16 years old cat Chrissy to a stroke. . I can't stop crying. My heart is broken. I had to make the decision not to let her suffer, it was so hard. I loved her more than I can explain. She was the world to me. I held her to the very end. I'm so sad. I can't explain how it hurts. I'm 83 years.
Two days ago I just lost my 16 years old cat Chrissy to a stroke. . I can't stop crying. My heart is broken. I had to make the decision not to let her suffer, it was so hard. I loved her more than I can explain. She was the world to me. I held her to the very end. I'm so sad. I can't explain how it hurts. I'm 83 years.
Joan,

I am so very sorry for your loss and cannot imagine what you are going through right now. Losing our pets can be one of the hardest things to go through. I would suggest finding a copy of the book The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss and reading it and taking the steps outlined in it. Please let us know if you have any questions at all.

Brittany
Hi John. How long does it take for the feeling of wanting to cry to dissipate? I just lost my chocolate lab of 12 years on Monday and have never felt heartbreak like this. All day I get feelings of wanting to cry and breathing gets hard. To make it worse my other dog (8yo American bulldog) seems just as sad and lost.
Hi Randi. First, my heartfelt sympathies for your loss. I can tell you are a very loving person and your heart is aching. It has been 3 months since I lost my companion. I still tear up when i see others walking their dog and feel very lonely sitting on my couch by myself. That being said, I would not want it any other way. I want my pup to be a part of me even if that means some pain. That is how much she meant to me. Does wanting to cry dissipate? For me just a little bit. I have not been able to fill this void in my life. You loved your lab very much. There is nothing wrong with crying or wanting to cry. In time, I hope for both of us, this will dissipate. However long it does take I will always be thankful for the time she had with me. Please take care of your other dog for they know something is not right either. Spend as much time with her/him as you can. Lastly, be kind to yourself. You have given your dog a wonderful, loving life. Remember that. I am here for you.
First - so sorry for the loss of your dear friend. Pets are amazing friends - and truly the definition of unconditional love!

Second - you're right - pets grieve too... so it's not unusual that your other dog would also be lost without his/her friend... it's good you've got each other to grieve with during these difficult early days.

Third - you! How long does it take for the feeling of wanting to cry to dissipate? There's no one answer... Your loss is still very fresh - only a few days. So you're experiencing many memories and many experiences without your friend for the first time... His/Her things are likely still there... you're doing things with only the one pet not both... and you're having to tell your human friends over and over and over.... all bringing sadness and loss to the tear ducts on a frequent basis. I don't know how long it will take for it to completely "dissipate." Maybe never - and in some ways - with regards to my own losses... I'm ok with it being never. I don't ever want to forget those I've loved and lost - and especially those who were most close. It's been 20 years since my most significant loss... and I actually am glad when I still cry occasionally, because it reminds me how much I loved - LOVE - that person. I don't cry as often... but once in a while when I see, smell or hear something that goes deep in my heart and memories...

So - it will get better - it really will - but you may find tears coming for some time yet. and eventually it will be less often.

I would suggest that you be intentional about telling people about your pet - the good and not so good times. And the more you tell your story, the easier it can get... and the less often it's the death you remember and the more you remember the life. I like to tell people not to be ashamed of their tears - they come because we loved this person/pet - and there's nothing to be ashamed about for loving so much... but rather to see those tears as honoring that love, that relationship and to actually be thankful for the ability to love so deeply and to honor that love.

Here's a "sky kiss" for your loving friend!
My Dear Charlie of 19 yrs. left us on Monday at 11am, the 27th....I have not stopped crying....the house is so empty withouthim, all his things are around and all his beautiful pictures of good times and holidays decorate the house, my den, bedroom, bathrm, there isn't a rm. without a Charlie picture in it...i feel so guilty as i hollered at him the night before and the night before for howing and barking all night long....my guild is consuming me...i should not have hollered at him...but the howing and moaning and barking put me at my wits end of what to do....my dearest friend and love of my life is now gone...the quiet is deafening...my heart is breaking with pain, my eyes haven't been dry for days...my voice is cracked with sorrow...my Dear Charlie of so many years is gone from my days....i don't know how to recover myself and do the chores and errands of everyday living....how can i go on...what should i do.....my pain is so deep and overwhelming.....how do i help myself...
Judith - The feelings you are experiencing with the loss of Charlie are honest expressions of grief. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any change in life, and after 19 years, not having him physically at your site is an enormous change! My wife and I have lost three special friends in the past several years, and like charlie, each lived to be 19 years old! We found that "The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss," was a amazing tool in helping us deal with these losses. It help us both to put voice behind our many conflicting feelings of gratitude at having them in our lives and the pain that came from losing them in a positive way, so that now when we think about Oscar, Toby and Tara, we can enjoy our memories as opposed to being overwhelmed with the losses. I am sure that if you had known that Charlie was dying, you never would have scolded him. Sadly, our pet companions cannot always share their feelings in a way we can fully understand. This book will help you deal with that as well. Oscar, Toby and Tara are still very much a part of our lives, even after they died, and we think and talk about them often. That book, which you can find at most bookstores or on line at www.griefrecoverymethod.com, can help you through this time as well.
My Dear Charlie of 19 yrs. left us on Monday at 11am, the 27th....I have not stopped crying....the house is so empty withouthim, all his things are around and all his beautiful pictures of good times and holidays decorate the house, my den, bedroom, bathrm, there isn't a rm. without a Charlie picture in it...i feel so guilty as i hollered at him the night before and the night before for howing and barking all night long....my guild is consuming me...i should not have hollered at him...but the howing and moaning and barking put me at my wits end of what to do....my dearest friend and love of my life is now gone...the quiet is deafening...my heart is breaking with pain, my eyes haven't been dry for days...my voice is cracked with sorrow...my Dear Charlie of so many years is gone from my days....i don't know how to recover myself and do the chores and errands of everyday living....how can i go on...what should i do.....my pain is so deep and overwhelming.....how do i help myself...
My Dear Charlie of 19 yrs. left us on Monday at 11am, the 27th....I have not stopped crying....the house is so empty withouthim, all his things are around and all his beautiful pictures of good times and holidays decorate the house, my den, bedroom, bathrm, there isn't a rm. without a Charlie picture in it...i feel so guilty as i hollered at him the night before and the night before for howing and barking all night long....my guild is consuming me...i should not have hollered at him...but the howing and moaning and barking put me at my wits end of what to do....my dearest friend and love of my life is now gone...the quiet is deafening...my heart is breaking with pain, my eyes haven't been dry for days...my voice is cracked with sorrow...my Dear Charlie of so many years is gone from my days....i don't know how to recover myself and do the chores and errands of everyday living....how can i go on...what should i do.....my pain is so deep and overwhelming.....how do i help myself...
My Dear Charlie of 19 yrs. left us on Monday at 11am, the 27th....I have not stopped crying....the house is so empty withouthim, all his things are around and all his beautiful pictures of good times and holidays decorate the house, my den, bedroom, bathrm, there isn't a rm. without a Charlie picture in it...i feel so guilty as i hollered at him the night before and the night before for howing and barking all night long....my guild is consuming me...i should not have hollered at him...but the howing and moaning and barking put me at my wits end of what to do....my dearest friend and love of my life is now gone...the quiet is deafening...my heart is breaking with pain, my eyes haven't been dry for days...my voice is cracked with sorrow...my Dear Charlie of so many years is gone from my days....i don't know how to recover myself and do the chores and errands of everyday living....how can i go on...what should i do.....my pain is so deep and overwhelming.....how do i help myself...
Thank you Steve for your good words and advise of how to get through this hard time in mu life.....it is so painful for me...the tears do not wnt to stop...my heart is aching so badly....
I really wish I knew the answer because I am going through the same thing with my cat Tommy. We LOVED each other so very much and now my other cat Bubba and I are so broken. I wish the pain would ease up and to see Bubba looking for Tommy and not being able to find his buddy hurts me even worse. Bubba lays around after searching the house and looking out the windows for Tommy so many times every day. Tommy loved me like no other pet or even person did I feel. He was so very unique and now my heart mind and body hurts for him. I wish Bubba and I could feel better.
I really wish I knew the answer because I am going through the same thing with my cat Tommy. We LOVED each other so very much and now my other cat Bubba and I are so broken. I wish the pain would ease up and to see Bubba looking for Tommy and not being able to find his buddy hurts me even worse. Bubba lays around after searching the house and looking out the windows for Tommy so many times every day. Tommy loved me like no other pet or even person did I feel. He was so very unique and now my heart mind and body hurts for him. I wish Bubba and I could feel better.
John, I so wish I would have run across this article and your comment long ago. My prayer for you is that time has helped you understand that you were everything your sweet companion needed you to be. I believe our beloved companions will be waiting for us on the other side. Until then, please know you were enough. All my compassion and gratitude for the love you gave so freely, knowing that one day, it to would end and become a cherished memory.
I've had three huge pet losses in my life...one when I was ten, one 8 years ago and one...now. I lost my baby three months ago and I don't feel I'm getting better. I am sad, REALLY sad and cannot think of her or I dissolve. But she's everywhere and nowhere.

I accept it was her time, she was 15...she was elderly and infirm. But she was happy and had a joie de vivre and I cannot believe,quite , she's not here. I love her...I still love her, I just cannot see her. Where is my baby? I have got a new puppy and she is amazing and I love her too. She is the best distraction but I still miss my three legged baby. I cannot look at pics of the dog I lost when I was ten or eight years ago either. Still cuts me to the quick. Maybe I am not grieving properly and am stuck at one of the stages? It chokes me in my chest,all of them.
The one when I was ten was particularly horrific and I was never allowed to talk about him after that,maybe that's a factor?
We have a few pets and hanging out with them is the best and does console me for a while.
I don't think though that I'll ever *get over* it as I should. I just shut them away and cannot think of them, too painful .
Jen - Let's start with the last thing that you wrote - You never "get over" any loss, but you can learn to survive and thrive in spite of it. Everything that you have said shows that you are an honest to goodness griever! You mentioned the "stages of grief," but in truth there are no "stages." Those stages that we have all heard about originated from a study of people coming to grips with a terminal illness that was going to cause their death - those stages never had anything to do with what we experience when dealing with the loss of someone or something else. (A Yale Medical School study supported their lack of application to other losses as well.) What you need to do, so that you can move forward and fully enjoy the memories of these special friends who have died is to take "grief recovery action." "The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss" is designed to help you deal with all of the feelings of loss that you have discussed. This book will walk you through taking action to say "goodbye" to those painful feelings that come to mind when you think of these pets, so that you can enjoy your memories. It is not about forgetting those relationships, but about dealing with the pain that comes when you remember each loss. In taking this action for yourself, you will better enjoy your new relationship with your new pet. Please do not continue to suffer! Get a copy of this book and follow its action plan. It does not read like a text book that speaks to you on an intellectual basis, but instead speaks directly to your heart!

A week from Sunday My Family and I lost our Sweet Beloved Susie a 15 Year Old Persian, and a couple of Years Ago lost our Beloved Bobo a 19 Year old Persian, and at the Same
time lost our Sweet Beloved Sugarbear a 12 Year Old Husky Akita Mix. As we get Older the Lost of another Pet is Devasting to my Family and I, since we lost two pets not to long ago to Cancer and Kidney Disease, which our 15 Year Old Persian had too, who we lost her to.

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