Pets and their human companions can form such strong bonds over the years. So much so that owners often describe their ‘fur babies’ as family members or consider them their children. It’s not surprising then, that pet owners commonly experience grief when an animal companion dies.
The loss of such a close relationship can be devastating. Some pet owners may even experience grief that parallels that of losing a significant human connection.
In the same way that bereaved people engage in behaviors and rituals to maintain that bond with a significant person who has died, some pet owners perform rituals to connect with animals they have loved. Bonds are often maintained by keeping items that belonged to the deceased person or animal, or visiting a place that the deceased loved or where they spent much of their time.
While some bereaved pet owners prefer to avoid painful reminders of their companion animals, many find it helpful to maintain ongoing, meaningful ties with their deceased pet. But this can be difficult, because when a pet dies, there are no traditional rituals or protocols in place in the way there is when a human dies. Research shows that the lack of ceremony or procedure to memorialise a pet’s life can negatively influence the grieving process.
An effective way to help mitigate the pain of losing a pet is to maintain the feeling that your animal companion is nearby. Some people find comfort in creating shrines for their pet. Others hold on to items that belonged to them.
Many pet owners even continue to talk to their ‘fur children’ as if they were still there. Some people might continue to wish their deceased pets “good morning” or “good night”, and say things like “I miss you, little guy,” or “you were a good dog”.
On the other hand, some pet owners may find it upsetting to look at their pet’s toys and other belongings. So, for those people, throwing or giving away a deceased pet’s things can help to minimise the distress of seeing these items.
Organising memorials or special events in tribute of deceased pets is another common way to process grief after a loss. In the same way that memorials or funerals allow the bereft to say goodbye to their deceased loved ones, a memorial ceremony can be both an aid to dispose of the physical animal body, and also as a way of saying goodbye and processing grief. A memorial or ceremony allows pet owners to honour the close human-to-animal bond. Commonly, the loss is acknowledged with a eulogy to pay tribute to the life and provide a remembrance. Pet tributes also express appreciation to companion animals for providing comfort and friendship through the years.
Memorials are sometimes held immediately after a pet has died, while other times people need time to consider the best way to honor their animal companion. Sometimes these memorials are held in private, other times they can be shared with family and even veterinary staff.
Many people arrange a pet cremation, rather than a burial, so they can retain the cremated ashes as a way of keeping the animal in the family. Some find it comforting to scatter the ashes at a special place that their pet loved, or where their pet spent much of their time.
Another way to cope with pet grief is to hold some other form of ritual to honour the companion animal’s precious life. It may be putting up photographs around the house or gathering them in a keepsake box.
Some people find it comforting to read books or other resources about pet loss, while others find writing letters to their deceased animals helps them better process their grief. Sometimes interacting with other animals helps people to cope with grief, like walking a friend’s dog, or visiting an animal shelter.
In the way that social support can be significant in helping people to cope after a human loss, support from family, friends and professional services is also invaluable. If you are feeling 'stuck' in your grief or just need some extra support navigating your bereavement, grief counselling services - including specific pet loss support groups - are effective in supporting the bereaved. Mental health professionals, including counselors and psychiatrists can also help provide strategies for coping with pet grief.
Grief is not clear cut. Each element fades in and out at different times and in different ways for each person. Regardless of how grief is experienced, it’s important to validate your feelings. Without validating your grief, you aren’t able to properly process your emotions. And this can put you at greater risk of compounding your mental and physical anguish.
Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.
When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarian's as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character. We are with you at every step of the journey.
To find out more, visit the Goodbye Good Boy website here, or chat with our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.