This video is from a therapist in California who talks of both her professional and personal experience of pet loss.
(We’ve included this video because we believe it may be helpful for our readers. However, the advice given is for informational purposes. We are not responsible or in any way affiliated with it’s author.)
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I’m Tammy Fletcher – Licenced Marrraige and family therapist in California. Today we’re going to be talking about ways of coping when you’ve lost a pet.
Many people who lose a pet may be first and foremost surprised at the intensity of their feelings of grief around this experience. This video is designed to answer any of your questions about pet loss and to give you some ideas of ways of coping with this experience in your life. I’m speaking not only as a therapist but as someone who lost their best friend 5 months ago, My black Great Dane named Sophia.
She was a service dog, a therapy dog, and my best friend. She was 8 1/2 Years old which is very old for a Great Dane. Giant breeds typically don’t live as long as other types of dogs. But still her loss hit me and my family (and even some of my friends and clients who had met her) like a freight train. I didn’t find a lot of objective professional support but what I did find was that the experience of other pet owners who had experienced a loss helped me and my family more than anything. They didn’t think we were crazy for grieving as hard as we did. They “Got” it. They’d been there and they grieved right along with us.
Not everyone will understand the pain that you’re in after losing a pet but that’s alright because there are thousands of people that will. Besides this video (we’re going to talk about pet loss but) I’ve also added a page onto my website and I’ll talk a little bit more about that in just a minute. Let’s first talk about what we as pet owners experience when we lose a beloved pet…
The first question that typically comes up (and this is a big question that many of us have gone through) is how do you know when it’s time?
It seems quite often that pets will hang on at the end of their lives. We don’t want to let them go but we also don’t want to see them suffer. I’ve heard that they hold on for us and maybe this is true, I don’t know. What I do know, is that making the call to the vet when you’ve reached the point where you see that your pet is suffering, (and there’s no hope of recovery) is one of the hardest calls you’ll ever have to make. If your pet is seriously ill, talk candidly with your vetinarian. Ask what your options are and descibe what you’re seeing on a day-to-day basis as far as your pets quality of life.
Basically my understanding is this: If you’re pet is eating, eliminating, playing, attentive, still involved in their activities of daily life and not in obvious pain, it’s probably not time.
However if you notice they’re becoming lethargic, their in pain, they have a disease from which they’re either not responding or there’s no chance of recovery from – If you’re noticing those types of things it’s time to have a serious talk with your vet.
Now sometimes an animal is lost, e.g- They pass away due to an accident, and illness, a surgery they don’t recover from something like that. You may have not had to make the call to have your pet euthanised but you’re going to have the same feelings of bereavement – Depression, sadness, denial, anger and even guilt. You may be asking yourself “What could I have done? Did I make a wrong decision? Did I feed her the wrong food?”. There are all kinds of things that are going to be going through your head during this time. You may be wondering what you could have done to prevent the loss.
These are normal reactions to the loss of someone that you love.
Now coming home after your pet has passed away to his or her leash, food bowls, bed, and toys can be extremely painful.
Think about what you need to do, how you need to cope with that. Talk to your family if they’re sharing the home with you and see what you need to do. Perhaps you need to put them away for a while. Do what you need to do to minimise that extremely painful time right after your pet has passed away. In our case we put our dogs collar and tags away. We have another dog in the house (actually 2 other dogs now) so nothing besides the collar and the tags were specifically hers, so the rest of the items around the house didn’t pack the same emotional whallop, as for some reason her collar did (for me).
A few months after she had died I took the collar, I took the tags, I took a picture from when she was a puppy and from when she was older and then I made a shadow box which we put on our bedroom wall. That was a step in our healing. But right at the beginning, no – We had to put the most intimate things that were connected with her away.
Children And Pet Loss
Next let’s talk about children in the home and how you speak to them about how you speak to them about the passing of a pet. As with any death you don’t want to use terms like “She went away” or “He went to sleep”. Those kinds of things confuse children. What you want to do is rely on age appropriate but honest communication. Let them know if they have questions that you’re there to answer them.
There are a couple of books out there about grieving and children. I don’t have a lot of resources as far as grieving for a pet and children. I know that they’re out there but there aren’t very many of them. But basically, allow your child to grieve in his or her own way. Don’t tell them that it’s not O.K to cry. Don’t tell them to get over it, it was just a pet, EVEN If it’s their pet frog! Children can feel things very deeply.It’s important to let them process and know that you’re a safe person they can talk to and ask question when they have them – Especially about something as big as death.
Now – If your pet is euthanised a big decision is whether or not you’ll be there with the pet during the procedure. We were with Sophia, we didn’t feel like there was a choice. We had to be there, I’m glad that we were there but I can tell you that it’s absolutely heart-breaking. It’s a very difficult experience to go through. It is somewhat comforting to have seen her at the end – At Peace, and pain free. And I think as time goes by and we heal, that becomes more and more of a comfort.
Now – If you do have the chance most experts will recommend that you do have your other pets (if you have any), present when one of your animals is euthanised.
About 4-5 years ago our orange tabby cat Chester passed away and we were able to arrange for a vet that does nothing but euthanasia and hospice type care, to come to our home, all of the pets were around and Chester was able to [ass over in his favourite sunny spot on the sofa. Each of the pets were able to come up and sniff him and spend a little bit of time with his body when he had passed over.
They seemed to; (they grieved) but they seemed to understand that he was gone because they were there. We did not have that same opportunity with Sophia. Things deteriorated so rapidly that we could not wait without her suffering longer so unfortunately I think at least one of our cats is still looking for her and it’s been 5 months so if you can have your pets present if you have a pet euthanised, let the other pets say good-bye that can be a good thing because they grieve too.
The main thing I want you to take away from this video is that it’s important to grieve in whatever way makes sense to you. We don’t all grieve the same way we don’t all go through the process in an identical manner. Losing a pet is terribly painful. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings, acknowledge the importance of this animal in your life. Talk about it with people who “get it”, who will provide support, and be extra gentle with yourself right now.
When I was putting this video together, as always, I cast a very wide net of asking for feedback, ideas, and stories from friends and colleages and the general public. I could not have anticipated the responses that I got. I was going to put slides in this video (like in my “Healing power of pets” video) but there was no way…
The stories were absolute treasures. So what I’ve done is created a page on my website with the stories ‘in tact’, that people sent me. Some people sent me pictures. I anticipate that the page will grow, and I welcome your feedback. If you’d like a picture of your pet, or story of your pet who’s passed on, send it to me. I’d be more than happy to our growing list.
This struck a nerve with a lot of people. There was a lot of unresolved grief. I think I was teary-eyed every day this week as I was reading peoples stories and seeing their grief process but also the incredible amount of love that their pets brought into their lives. So the link to that web-page is: http://fletchertherapy.com/petloss.htm. Note: Although this page is still present, it looks like Tammy has updated her website and this section is no longer maintained.
As always I welcome your comment sand suggestions on what it’s been like for you if you’ve lost a pet, what helped you the most and any suggestions that you have for people going through the same experience. Thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you next time.