Grief After the Death of a Beloved Pet

Mourning the Loss of a Dog

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Handling the death of a beloved pet is never easy, but grieving for that pet is an important part of your recovery. If you have lost a special canine companion, the emotions can become overwhelming. Take some time out to grieve for your dog. Celebrate the bond you had with your dog. Don't be afraid to cry. It takes time to heal.

Because your pet was an everyday part of your life, even the most mundane tasks can be heartbreaking.

You might catch yourself getting ready to feed your dog or let him out, only to remember he is gone. Chances are, you will come home sometimes expecting your dog to greet you. Little things like scratch marks on the floor from doggie nails can trigger an emotional response. Items like dog beds, toys, bowls, leashes, collars, etc. are obvious reminders. However, getting rid of all the things that remind you of your dog is not necessarily the answer. If you wish to remove your dog's belongings from sight, simply store them away somewhere. You might want to go back and look at them in the future.

The Stages of Grief

The 1997 book entitled On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD introduced the now well-known five stages of grief. These stages are not meant to compartmentalize grief, only to help us better understand grief. Depending on the person, these stages may overlap with one another or occur in different orders (or not at all).

There is no exact formula for grief. Here are the five stages of grief according to Dr. Kübler-Ross:

  • Denial: The initial shock of loss leads to disbelief. Emotional numbness acts as a form of self-defense from reality.
  • Anger: As it all sinks in, anger will begin to develop. This comes from a combination of your emotions and almost acts as a way to exhaust the stress. This stage often causes the mourner to lay blame on persons or things for the death.
  • Bargaining: This is the "what if" stage. The grieving person envisions a way to have prevented the death. Guilt often accompanies bargaining.
  • Depression: This can be a difficult stage to endure, but it is necessary to the healing process. A sad situation calls for sadness, and the reality of the death can cause a person to get very low. It is normal, but not without end. However, serious long-term depression is a sign to seek help from a professional.
  • Acceptance: Though the sadness and grief may remain forever, the acceptance stage means coming to terms with the reality of the death. Accepting it does not mean you are "over it." Acceptance simply means you understand that life goes on.

Memorializing Your Pet

Doing something special to preserve the memory of your beloved companion can be very therapeutic. Some pet owners even decide to have a small memorial service after the death of a pet. The important thing is to do something from your heart that will help you remember your dog and process your grief.

If you were able to make arrangements before your dog died (as in the case of euthanasia), you might have gotten the chance to create a paw print out of clay or ink. A lock of hair might have been collected.

If you did not get a chance to do one of these things, save some of your pet's small belongings. Consider displaying one or more of the items (paw print, lock of hair, dog collar, favorite small toy) in a window-box frame with a photo of your dog. A small inscription with your dog's name will complete the memorial. You can even hang it near one of your dog's favorite spots in your home. There are some things you can do beyond simply displaying an urn. Consider planting a tree or other plant in your yard, and scatter some of the cremains (ashes) in the dirt around the plant. A decorative stepping stone can be placed there with a message and/or the name of your pet if you desire.

One unique way to remember your pet is to create a unique artistic memorial from the cremains. The company Art From Ashes has been creating beautiful handcrafted glass remembrances of pets for many years.

Due to high demand, they even began to make pieces from human cremains upon request.

Some owners decide to bury their pet's body or cremains ​on their property. If you wish to do this, just be sure to check local ordinances, as it might be technically illegal in your area. After burial, consider having a special headstone or artistic sculpture placed in this area, or grow beautiful flowers there.

Why not express your feelings in words? Write a poem, story, blog post, or other memorial to your dog. A written tribute will help you process your emotions while giving others a chance to see the love you have for your dog. Other pet owners may find comfort in it too. On that note, consider some reading memorial tributes written by other pet owners.

Talk to people about your feelings. You might find that discussing your grief with friends and family members is helpful. Consider joining a pet loss support group in your area or online. You may even want to speak with a grief counselor to help you work through your emotions.

The most important thing to remember is that grief takes time. You will always miss your companion, but things will get better. At first, there will be more bad days than good. Then, you will find that the bad and good days are even. Soon, you will have fewer bad days, and it will be easier to focus on the happy memories with less sadness. Your pet's memory may always be bittersweet for you. Future pets cannot replace your lost companion, but they might help fill a void. Just be sure to wait until the time is right. As pet owners, we know that we will most likely outlive our pets, so we are grateful for the short time we can share or lives with them.