Coping with the loss of a pet
Furry companions enrich our lives in so many ways. They provide emotional support, companionship and unconditional affection. They become a part of our family. Sadly, their life span is considerably shorter than ours. When they pass away, whatever the circumstance, it’s normal to feel devastated, and overwhelmed with loss and the hole their absence leaves in our heart.
Five Stages of grief
In her book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief, based on how humans experience loss. These stages became accepted as a five-part model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These steps aren’t linear and may be experienced in a different order, may overlap, or not be experienced at all.
How people deal with the loss of a beloved animal companion varies. Clay McAleer, facilitator of a pet grief support program at the Robbie Dean Counselling Centre, explains new terminology is now used for the stages:
- Shock/avoidance (of pain)
- Experiencing strong emotions in succession repeatedly (kind of like spinning around in a whirlpool)
- Searching for the answer to why, reaching a resolution (a firm decision to do or not do something)
- Adopting a “new normal” or life without your loved one
Handling your grief
Grief is an emotional response to a loss. It doesn’t proceed in a straight line, and everyone deals with its stages in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and no set time limits on when it will hurt less.
Be gentle with yourself, particularly in the early days of your grief journey, suggests McAleer.
Cry when you feel the need, express sadness, fear or guilt or get angry when the emotion wells up inside.
“It is unhealthy to attempt to contain these natural expressions of grief and by repressing them we may do long-term harm if not addressed,” McAleer says.
Talk about your loss with people you trust. Sharing stories and happy memories of your furry companion can also help. If you cannot verbalize your feelings, write a letter or poem about how you are feeling.
“Make up a song, create a play, draw a picture or paint a portrait; anything you can think of to release your unused love into the universe and memorialize your friend so everyone will know how important your loss is to you, “explains McAleer.
Take time to grieve your loss, practice self-care and be kind to yourself. Share your thoughts, memories and feelings with people you trust to respect your need to remember your animal companion. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed.
Virtual pet loss support and counselling
The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society has partnered with the Robbie Dean Counselling Centre to present a free, online pet loss support group. The group meets virtually on the second Tuesday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The sessions are free and are facilitated by a certified grief counsellor. It’s an opportunity to share the feelings and thoughts experienced during the grief journey.
Honouring a beloved pet by helping animals
Did you know you can honor your beloved companion (or that of a friend or family member) by making a tribute donation in their honour? You can provide comfort to someone who is grieving by giving them the knowledge an animal in need is being helped in honour of their furry friend. Make a tribute gift.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France
The journey from grief to healing is your individual journey. The loss of a furry companion is devastating, but they also give us joy and unconditional love during their time with us.
Thank you so much for all you do
Thank you so much for all you do every day to rescue animals in need. I can’t imagine the terrible situations that you see every day. It is great that you have the heart to help. Keep up the good work.