Coping with losing a loved one is one of life’s great difficulties—regardless of the species. The death of a pet is a hard reality all owners must eventually face, and each of us handles mourning differently.
Recently, I lost my 11-year-old wolfhound lab, Lucy to bone cancer. It has devastated me. But I know that grieving is an important part of this life process, and a part of this process for me is writing. So, why not write about this process for the Fur Kids Foundation blog.
Lucy was a part of my everyday life. And now that she is gone, I still find myself stumbling out of bed in the morning to greet her, only to see her corner empty. It’s hard to go home for lunch or even after work knowing that her goofy mug won’t be there. I’ve even gone as far as scheduling my day so I make sure she can be let out at lunch, and then realizing she is gone. It hits me like a ton of bricks and I feel so empty. And items like her dog beds, leash, and even the photos that litter my shelves have been hard to look at—I’ve had to put most of her items in my spare room. And when it gets hard, I break down.
See, for me the first step was to give myself permission to grieve. Lucy was my companion for more than 10 years and losing her was tremendous. There are many ways to grieve:
You can cry and scream and try to let it all out—sometimes you may even feel the need to repeat an episode like this a few times.
You can talk with your friends and let them know that you’re having a hard time dealing with losing your fur kid.
Or, you can journal or write a letter to process the emotions that you are feeling—or, take a cue from me and write a blog, story or poem. Some other ways to express your feelings may include tapping into your creative side and painting or drawing, or really let your emotions out while participating in a grueling hike or hitting the gym on a regular basis. Whatever it is, allow yourself to grieve and be patient with yourself.
In my case, I knew that Lucy wasn’t going to be with me for much longer—at an appointment my vet found the bone cancer. Knowing this, I chose to find ways that I could memorialize my pet while she was still with me.
Each day we did something I knew Lucy enjoyed—we went for a walk at the park, went to Yappy Hours, ate peanut butter, cuddled on the floor while I watched a movie—and I took her photo. I then posted it on social media. Many of my friends knew what was going on, and found this to be a way to support me and Lucy through this journey.
There is this fun ceramics place in town called Hands on Pottery, but she also has potting clay at the store so people can make their own art pieces as well (a sample of what I made is to the top left). Knowing this, I asked for a pound and a half of the clay to be cut and rolled out so I could press Lucy’s paws into it, and stamped a message in it as well—Lucy left “paw prints” on my heart—and then painted it a fun color. This is a minimal fee and now I have a nice garden stone in my yard that will always remind me of Lucy.
I also reached out to Photo Imaging Center in Gillette, who was having a “Pictures in the Park” special, and had some photos taken with her, again for a minimal cost.
However, there are many other ways to memorialize your pet when they are gone.
Take a cherished picture of your pet to an artist and have them make a painting or drawing of the picture. There is an awesome artist in town who can do this for a very fair price, Herb Kalenberg: Artist. (Feel free to let him know that Fur Kids Foundation sent you.) However, if you Google dog portraits or even flip through any pet focused magazine, you’re sure to find an artist selling this kind of service. You are also welcome to try your hand at it as well.
Create a funeral or celebration of your pet’s life and invite friends and families, and their pets to take part in the festivity.
Plant trees or bushes as a place to go and visit your pet later on. I know that the Powder Basin Equestrian Association’s park is an area where people can request trees or bushes to be planted in their pets honor for a small fee.
Make a donation to a cause in your pet’s name to an animal charity. My first suggestion would be Fur Kids Foundation, but there are many others available.
When Others Devalue Your Loss
Unfortunately, pet loss is not appreciated by everyone, and some of your friends and family may ask “What’s the big deal?” or say “It’s just a pet!”
Fortunately, I did not experience any of this. However, there may be some people who assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for an animal. In my opinion, they may not understand because they have not developed the level of companionship and love that many pet owners have cultivated. I truly believe what French Literature Noble Prize winner Anatole France once wrote: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
I found some tips on HelpGuide.com to use when confronted with these types of people:
I’ll be honest; I’m still moving through my grief process. And, I’m quite comfortable with that. And while I don’t think I’ve felt as empty as I do right now, I’d happily adopt Lucy all over again.
More ideas and ways to cope with the loss of a pet:
Created in November 2011, the Fur Kids Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides education and aid to promote the well-being of animals in Campbell County.
Your donation saves lives. It goes to work helping animals in Campbell County receive adequate veterinary care during a time when their family may not be able to afford it. Please contact the Foundation to learn more or donate now using PayPal.