I recently read, “The hardest part about losing a pet you love is not when you say goodbye, it’s the way your whole world changes without them and the emptiness left in your heart.” On May 14th, 2019, my Siberian Husky, “Spirit,” passed away in my arms and the world as I knew it was forever changed, as was my heart. I was blessed to share 12½ years with Spirit, which by all accounts is a long life for any dog or cat, but it wasn’t long enough. If you have a pet that you dearly love, there are never enough years with them. Spirit wasn’t my first dog, and he won’t be my last, since I have four others in my home now, and have lost three before him, but he was my “soul dog,” my best friend, the steady, unconditional love that was by my side through the good and bad times. I am dealing daily with the loss and have found a few things that have helped me during this time.
“It’s Just a Dog”
If you have shared your life with a dog or any animal, you know they become family members. I am blessed, because my friends, for the most part, are animal lovers and had followed Spirit’s health issues over the years, knowing how hard I worked to keep him healthy. So no one ever said to me, “He was just a dog.” God help them if they had. Sadly, for some, not all people understand the gravity of the loss. The simple truth is: Losing a pet is a huge deal and a life change. Many families consider their pet to be just as much a part of the family as any human. Remember for those you know grieving the loss of a beloved four-legged family member: pet ownership isn’t about ownership at all. It is a mutual relationship that has the deepest emotions at the core of its foundation.
The worst thing a pet owner can hear after “it’s just a dog” is “get over it.” Everyone grieves at their own pace and that includes for the loss of a pet. The closer the bond with the pet, the longer the grieving process. I have found that sharing with my closest friends when I’m having a particularly hard day helps. Most of my friends either had met Spirit or had followed his battles on social media, plus in many cases they have lost a pet of their own. It’s funny how animal people draw other animal lovers to them because we “get” the love of animals.
Accept and Respect the Bond Whether You Understand It or Not
Many people with pets include their fur-kids in their daily activities. Trips to the dog-park or evening walks are special times spent with your dog or holding your kitty at night watching TV. Doing things with a pet at one’s side can make the day complete. When these pets are suddenly absent, those days are never the same. With the changed routine, a void is created. If a friend is experiencing a loss of time with a pet, offer to do something with them to get their mind off of what used to be.
Sharing of Grief and Listening is Important
If someone is at the height of their grief, just be there to listen. If you are the one struggling with your loss, there are support groups in our area where you can meet with others in your same situation and just share the pain, loss and perhaps anger you are feeling. Trellis Supportive Care in Winston-Salem, NC, has a group that meets on the 3rd Monday of each month from 6 pm-7 pm at the Trellis Supportive Care– Williams Education & Counseling Center at 101 Hospice Lane, Winston-Salem, NC. Advance registration is required. Sometimes reminiscing about fond memories can help move you through the grieving process.
The sad reality is that losing a pet is devastating. As a friend, the best thing you can do is offer a shoulder to cry on. Be there to lend an ear. If you have lost a cherished pet, remember, grief isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. You move through each step at your pace and know that what you are feeling is completely normal and part of the deep love and bond you had with your pet.
For more information on Trellis Supportive Care for animal grief, call 336-331-1300.