The loss of a pet can be a devastating event for anyone. To many Americans, a pet is a best friend, or at least a beloved family member. Many children grow up with pets, and learn their first lessons about death through those pets, as most pets have shorter life spans than humans.
The average lifespan of a dog can be anywhere from 7-15 years, depending upon the breed. Dogs are loyal animals who offer unconditional love to their owners. They provide companionship and, often, protection. Cats, on the other hand, can live quite a bit longer, but offer the same love and devotion to a dedicated owner. Pets can also include birds and reptiles. No matter what the species, a pet is an important member of any household or family, and the grief that is felt at the end of a pet’s life can be profound.
While pets usually show signs of decline in their health toward the end of their lives, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly when is an appropriate time for euthanasia. It is usually advised to notice when the pet’s quality of life has become significantly compromised. For example, dogs and cats often become incontinent, or their legs fail to support their body weight. Another example might be visible signs of discomfort or pain. No one wants to see a pet suffer, and any loving pet owner would rather protect a beloved pet from suffering.
This is often a difficult decision, and one that no one enjoys making. Today’s animal care is comprehensive and offers quite a few options, such as hospice care, acupuncture, and other holistic medicines that provide comfort to a pet with a serious illness. While that can alleviate some symptoms and discomforts, there is still a deep sense of grief for the owner when the pet eventually passes.
As with grief for any death, it’s important to find support systems to help with the emotional pain. There are online support groups and articles. Many communities offer in-person support groups and/or counseling. Memorializing a pet can help with the grief process. Time is, of course, the ultimate healer, and during the passing of time, it’s often helpful to reflect upon your life with the animal. Looking at photographs is a wonderful way to remember your pet. Favorite stories about your pet can be remembered through writing poems and short stories, or even drawing pictures.
Your pet can be buried in a pet cemetery, or even on your property, if local laws are permitting. There are plenty of ways in which a pet grave can be marked with a plaque, stone, or other grave marker. This can be a special tribute that honors your pet forever.
Alternatively, pet cremation is becoming more and more popular. A unique or personalized pet urn can serve as a constant reminder of your love for your pet. There are plenty of choices in today’s pet memorials market. A pet urn can be made that reflects the spirit of your pet, or even resembles the physical traits of your pet.
As with all grief, it is common to feel anger, sadness, denial, or depression. It is important to seek support and know that this is normal. Time softens the anguish of this grief, and support can help the emotional state while that time is passing.