A Pet Carer Shares...

The Thomas Family lost their beloved Rush in February 2015 and Hannah (Thomas) shared these words of advice with The Ralph Site for those helping others cope with pet loss and for those coping with pet loss themselves.

Tips for how to help your friends through the loss of a pet:

  • Say "I know how much he/she meant to you". 
  • Never suggest that the loss of a beloved animal hurts less than losing a person.
  • Never, under any circumstances say "It's only a dog/cat/hamster, etc." 
  • Share memories you have of their pet, especially of good times. Invite them to talk about him/her.
  • Be wary of any suggestion that getting another pet could be a replacement. If a parent lost a child we would never dream of suggesting they have another to ease the pain. While it's perfectly true that a pet is not a child, it is still a loss and the process of grieving for a lost loved one follows the same rules. 
  • Spend time with your friend. When an animal dies, especially if they are the only pet, the routine that vanishes with them leaves a hole in the day that is a constant reminder of their absence. When I lost my beloved dog, one of the things that helped me the most was when my neighbour would ring me at just about the time I'd normally be getting ready to take the dog out for our morning walk. She'd invite me to walk along with her and her dog and while it may seem odd, it did help more than I could have thought possible. It doesn't have to be a pet-centered activity to be meaningful. Spending time with your friend, whether it's walking or shopping or eating a meal, breaks up their day and the distraction from the missing routine can be very helpful.
  • Be patient. Grief has it's own agenda and the process can take months, even years. Make a space for their grief so they know it's ok to express it with you no matter how much time may have passed. Your understanding can make all the difference in the world. There comes a point with any grief when others think the mourning period should somehow magically end. If only grief were that simple. Understand that there is no such mark. Sometimes with loss it is not a matter of healing, but rather a matter of becoming used to functioning without a part of your self that was once there.
  • The grief process is individual for every one. No two people experience it in exactly the same way. Let go of any expectations you may have for your friend's grief and just focus on being a friend. Remind them that their pets love for them is such that they would not want them to despair, and we can honour those we have lost best by living well. 
  • And if you are the one doing the grieving, forgive those who carelessly tread on your grief- not because they deserve it, but as a gift to yourself to not be weighted by their ignorance.  Try as much as possible to allow yourself to enjoy the sunshine, the smell of grass, the freshness of a rainsoaked earth- all the things you may have enjoyed with your pet when they were alive. Do this in honour of them. It is not a betrayal of them to continue living, it is what their love for you demands, and that love is a connection that even death cannot destroy.