A loss is a loss, whether it’s a human or a pet. We lost our pet dog recently, and it has been heartbreaking, which happened during our break from blogging. However, we learned to cope and reconcile. Grieving the loss of a pet is natural but understanding the grieving process and its characteristics help us to deal with it. This post is about our experiences of losing a pet and a collection of best coping advice from around the web. ~ Ed.
Snoopy, our dearest pet dog, a senior member of our family passed away. He was more than a dog for us.
“A dog is man’s best friend.” This phrase asserts and expresses the importance of dogs in our lives.
As for me, my pet dog is unforgettable. He had a character and a personality that always inspired me and will leave an impression on my mind forever.
When he died, it was a great loss. It was traumatic for all of us.
It’s hard to understand pet bereavement if you’re not a pet owner. But if you’re a pet lover, you know that’s natural and obvious.
Whether your pet is a dog, a cat, or a bird, etc., you get emotionally attached or bonded and make them a part of your life.
Our dog, Snoopy, was a member of our family. Though he was ailing and we were preparing ourselves for his departure, it was not easy to cope with it.
He was brought to our home as a birthday gift for my daughter by her grandfather about 14 years ago.
Initially, it was only my daughter who was fascinated by him, but Snoopy enveloped all of us with his charms within no time.
Recently Snoopy had taken ill, mainly because of his age.
For those who don’t know, one year of a dog’s life is equivalent to 7 years of human age. So, if you convert Snoopy’s age, he was 96 years in human years.
One day when I returned home from his doctor’s clinic after a treatment session, seeing his deteriorating condition, I felt that he may not be able to carry on for long.
So, that night, my wife Harleena and I took a decision to call our daughters home.
Our younger one studies at a college about 1000 km away from us. She immediately took a flight and landed home the next morning, while we picked up the elder one after Snoopy’s demise, as she is near by.
I was relieved.
My worst fear was that my younger daughter would not make it in time due to the distance. I wanted her to be beside Snoopy when he breathed his last; else I thought she might keep this regret all her life.
We knew both our daughters wanted that too, as he was part of all of us.
I told my daughters about our dog’s condition and tried to prepare them for the worst. I gave them a piece of Indian wisdom.
An Overview of Contents
Spiritual Perspective of Death
In the Indian philosophy, we believe that death is a part of life. Life doesn’t end there.
Death is inevitable; it finds its own way and strikes at the destined time. No matter how prepared or guarded you’re, nothing can stop death if it’s time.
After death, one continues further in the journey of life.
Dog’s have a soul too just as we do, and attachment is suffering for the living as well as the departed soul.
Excessive attachment causes extended grief.
Not only does it cause us pain, but it also bounds the departed soul and deprives them of liberation, which is the breaking free from the cycle of birth and death.
It’s natural to feel sad, but prolonged grieving becomes a selfish act as we do that to bring solace to ourselves.
Contrarily, a selfless act would be to help the departed soul’s transition to the higher states of life or liberation by being happy for it.
You do that by praying for the departed soul and wishing it happiness and peace in the afterlife.
You develop an understanding that the soul becomes free from suffering after death and you bid farewell with a smile on your face and blessings in your heart.
Unfortunately, our attachments and emotions get the better of us. We find it difficult to overcome the grief and drown ourselves in sorrow. That’s natural and being human for most of us.
So, if you also experience the loss of a pet, an understanding of the stages of grief will help you cope and recover.
5 Stages of Grief after Losing a Pet
The intensity, phases, and duration of grieving the loss of a pet depends on many factors – your bond or relationship with the pet, your memories, and your experiences.
In general, there are five stages of grieving after losing a pet. You may experience some or all of them.
These stages of pet loss grief are based on the popular “five stages of grief” model for humans by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Shock and Denial
Our pet dog Snoopy died in front of me. My daughter and I had just brought him home after a treatment session at the doctor’s place. We were trying to bring comfort to him.
Suddenly, he stretched his body and legs, opened his mouth, breathed his last, and lay still.
We were left confused.
I could see he was not breathing anymore, but we had hope. We took him to the veterinary hospital where he was declared dead.
I was shocked.
I could not believe he would die this way. It had been only a few hours since my daughter landed especially to meet him.
Perhaps Snoopy was only hanging on waiting for her as he was so attached to her.
There was silence.
We just stood still trying to grasp what had just happened. I was in a state of denial. Life was suddenly colorless and meaningless, and I felt numb and lost.
Know that denial is a natural mechanism in which our brain tries to protect us from such traumatic events and harsh realities of life until we’re ready to cope with the loss.
It took time for the reality to sink in.
Such shock and silence may continue for a few minutes or hours to many days, depending on how fast and well you cope with the loss of your pet.
When the pet loss sinks in, and the numbness fades away, it may raise the feeling of anger in you. You might be mad about what, why, and how it all happened.
While feeling angry is normal, you need to be cautious about venting the anger and make sure you don’t hurt anyone. Your feelings might seem true but they may not be grounded in reality.
If your dog was under treatment, you might baselessly accuse the doctor of being careless or irresponsible.
I had feelings of anger towards Snoopy’s doctor because I felt one of his injections caused Snoopy’s death.
But I did not vent my anger because I knew it could be a baseless allegation. Nothing could bring back my pet dog’s life, and I knew the doctor had all the good intentions.
Some people even turn the anger inwards and blame themselves for not taking the right actions to avoid the incident.
But anger is just a part of the grieving process and a step towards accepting the death of your loved one.
Bargaining or Guilt
As anger passes, it reveals the underlying emotions of pain and sadness.
In the bargaining stage of grief, you may bargain with any higher power or God to restore your pet’s life. You’re ready to do anything so as to reverse the occurrence of events to the pre-loss stage.
If not bargaining, you fall prey to the feelings of guilt. You start focusing on “what if’s” and “if only’s” and blaming yourself for the loss of your pet.
You start feeling that you could’ve done things differently and have thoughts like “what if I’d started the treatment sooner?” or “what if I’d shown my pet to a different doctor?” or “if only I had been near my pet” etc.
I too felt guilty of not taking Snoopy to the doctor earlier and allowing the doctor to give that painful injection to Snoopy.
If only I had stopped him, my pet dog would have been alive. This feeling of guilt lingered on in my mind for some time and made me cry.
However, I know that I’d have been happy and patted myself if that injection improved Snoopy’s health.
I gradually came to an understanding that it was a necessary action taken at that time and it was not fair to blame others or myself for the fatal outcome.
Sometimes pets die young due to an accident. It’s tragic, but death has its own ways. That way we are glad that Snoopy lived to nearly his maximum age.
Guilt takes you further in preparing yourself for the acceptance of the tragic incident.
Loss of beloved ones is depressing. Feeling depressed and sad is normal and a stage of grief on the way to full recovery from the loss of your pet.
As you recover from guilt, you find yourself on the ground of reality. You experience empty feelings, and sadness digs deeper into your heart.
You may not feel interested in engaging in your daily activities and instead feel like withdrawing from life. It may be a feeling like to remain isolated or quiet.
If your pet had been sick and you’re the one attending to it, you’d be most affected. Like me.
I thought I had a better understanding of the grieving process and I’d sail through perfectly after the loss of my pet dog. But I found myself going through depression.
Though I forced myself to get distracted and take part in the daily activities, I found myself to be very sad and couldn’t stop myself from withdrawing from everything.
It took me almost about a week to get back to normal, gradually resume my work, and write this post. I had to – as it’s a tribute to my best friend, a member of our family.
Going through depression is perfectly normal after the loss of your pet, and it is an important stage of the grieving process.
It’s best to talk out to your family members or someone who understands pet loss grief. Sharing your feelings may help you release pent-up emotions and make you feel better and lighter.
The last of the stages of grief is acceptance. You acknowledge the death of your pet and understand that it’s the reality that you cannot change.
It does not mean that you’re okay with your pet loss. It’s just that you understand that there’s no other way than to reconcile with the fact and live with it.
You no longer focus on dealing with your pet loss grief but start to get back into your life as it was before.
Instead, you recognize a change of perspective, and you adopt a more logical approach to understand your pet loss. You no longer delve into the “what if’s” and “if only’s” and no longer feel depressed.
Acceptance gives you the permission to move on with life. You now adopt a different daily routine and enjoy life without any feelings of betraying your beloved pet.
You allow yourself to grow, heal, and live a more meaningful life.
Wrapping Up the Stages of Pet Loss Grief
These were the five stages of grief after the loss of a pet or your beloved one.
However, these stages may not happen exactly in this order or have a set period. They depend on the circumstances and many factors.
Some of these stages may return at different phases of life and catch you unawares. Certain events in life may activate memories and trigger sad feelings.
In the case of Euthanasia or if you put your pet to sleep, you might feel a bit different and undergo a different grieving process.
Also, as each person’s grief process is unique, your pet loss experience may be different from that of the others.
I attribute my ability to quickly get over the pet loss grieving process to my belief in the Indian philosophy of death.
You can use your own personal beliefs to help you cope with the death of your pet.
Our belief also helped my other family members including my daughters to get over and come to terms with the death of Snoopy, our pet dog.
I remember as I stood anxiously and puzzled as Snoopy breathed his last, my younger daughter was well composed and uttered with a teary smile – “he’s free from suffering.”
I unbelievingly looked at her. She was courageous. She’s only 19.
Though I have the acceptance of the loss of my pet, I am still saddened at times. The same goes for rest of the family, including my wife, Harleena.
I think we still need to give time to ourselves and find more ways to cope with the grief.
Ways of Coping with the Loss of a Pet
After the death of your pet, you need to move on and let the soul of your pet also move forward with the life after death.
But you can’t rush to “get over it.” You should not hurry grief.
Before moving forward with life, you need to completely cope and reconcile with the loss for achieving full closure.
It’s not wrong to cry. Don’t stop yourself if you want to. Instead, crying helps release the bottled up emotions. If you do not want to cry in front of others, you can do it privately.
Share the news about the loss of your pet with your friends and family by email or social media. The condolences will console you and help you cope.
Hold a prayer meeting or gather your family members and pray together that your pet’s soul rests in peace. We prayed and cried.
Rituals help instigate appropriate coping feelings within us. You can follow a burial ritual and rituals to respect your pet and his place of living.
It’s good to remember your pet and cherish the memories. We did this after our pet’s burial, and every family member had a chance to pay tribute to Snoopy.
After the pet’s death, we’re only left with memories. Archive the good memories in the form of photos in a scrapbook or on your blog. Write articles, poems, or stories to pen down and share your feelings about your pet.
Writing a letter
If you’ve gone the Euthanasia way, you may have difficulty coping with guilt. A way to overcome your feelings of guilt is to write an honest letter to your pet explaining your point of view and addressing the reasons for your action.
One way to cope with the loss of a pet is to volunteer at a local animal shelter and take care of the homeless pet, wounded animals, or feed the street animals.
Engage yourself in animal philanthropy and donate to an animal hospital or an NGO that works for animal welfare on behalf of your beloved pet.
Having conversations with and talking to people who’ve been in a similar situation help get over the loss. Think of joining the pet loss support groups or find a counselor.
Holding a ceremony
Having a funeral is a good way to release your emotions. You could have it at the place of burial of your pet; whether at the backyard of your house or at the cemetery.
Attending to the burial place
Visiting the burial place of your beloved pet may cause emotions to erupt initially but will bring you solace with time. You can beautify the place by planting flowers that do not require much maintenance.
Developing a new routine
Death of your pet induces an empty feeling, as you no longer follow the daily routine of feeding, walking, etc. with your pet. You need to create a new routine filling up the void time slots with meaningful activities.
The most important aspect of coping with the loss of a pet is to keep yourself healthy. You need to be mentally and physically sound to facilitate a positive frame of mind.
You need to take care of yourself by eating well, resting enough, and keep yourself surrounded with helping and positive people.
A grieving process helps you cope with the loss of your loved ones. You need to go through it.
Moreover, you should give yourself time and permission to grieve.
A better understanding of the stages of grief will prepare you in advance to deal with the different kinds of feelings that you experience in such cases.
It helps to practice different ways to cope with your feelings that bring you in terms with the loss of your pet. It helps to bring your emotions and mind to normalcy to be able to move ahead in life.
Move ahead, but don’t forget your pet. Remember the good times and be grateful for having the pet in your life. By being grateful, you allow yourself to heal.
A Tribute to Snoopy
Our pet dog, Snoopy, was a great companion who shared our joys and sorrows. Sometimes, we really wondered if he had been a human being in the previous life.
He gave us a complete perspective of life. We saw his playful childhood, charming youth, sincere adulthood, grim seniority, and tragic death.
When young, he was the fastest of all dogs, jumped the highest walls, and had females fall flat for him. 🙂
As a pup he was adored by all humans; as a senior, he was respected by all dogs.
He taught us many virtues of life.
There was none near to him regarding loyalty. He was an epitome of discipline, and patience came naturally to him.
He had a great sense of determination and service; never failed his duty to protect us (nobody dared to enter our house!).
No matter what we gave him, he only gave us unconditional love and support.
He taught us to face the sufferings boldly and beat the odds. He inspired us to be courageous and be confident.
Snoopy was a gift of God to us, and we were grateful to have him in our life.
We’ll always keep him in our memories and heart. Though we miss him, we’re happy for him because we know he’d be living in a better place that he deserves – because he earned all the good karmas.
May God bless him.
Over to you –
Did you have a pet? How did you cope with the loss of your animal friend? Share your experiences and memories with all the readers.
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