5 Strategies for Surviving the Loss of a Pet

Dog photo memorial
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Avoid “He Was Just a Pet” People

You know who these people are — they're the ones who never really understood the bond between you and your pet in the first place. Often, they’re trying to be helpful, but chances are their comforting words will only make you feel worse. And then there are the people who will attempt to “one-up” your grief or put your loss in context: “At least it wasn’t a child, just a pet” … “When I lost my husband I learned that losing a pet wasn’t really that big of a deal” … “Just get another one right away!” … and so on. If you can’t avoid their comments, no matter how well-meaning, try to ignore them or change the subject. It's OK to say that you don't want to talk about your loss — even if it's only this one particular person you don't want to talk with.

Seek Out Support

This is a great time to call a friend. The pet-loving people in your life understand what you’re going through and they’ll be there for you. Don’t be shy about talking with people who care about you and who will offer genuine sympathy. Ask for help if you need it, even with mundane tasks; if you can’t deal with picking up your pet's ashes or packing up his toys, ask a friend to help, for example. If you need more support than friends can give, your veterinarian may be able to help you find a pet-loss support group or a pet-loss hotline (many veterinary schools and colleges have them). There are also pet-centered websites for memorials, some of which have staffed pet-loss support chat rooms — seek them out.

Make Plans for a Memorial

Plant a tree, make a memorial donation to an animal charity, scrapbook a memorial … you’ll know what works for you. I recently spoke at a conference of pet-loss professionals about the strength of the human-animal bond, and while I was there, I learned a lot, too. There are many choices in memorials, from the simple and private to the most elaborate. It’s all about what you feel comfortable doing. At our Almost Heaven Ranch, we have a graveyard for our animals, and celebrating their lives is an important part of the Becker family traditions.

I meet a lot of pet lovers, and if you are among them, please tell me about your pet. I am always ready to listen — and I'm just as ready with a hug.

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