In case you hadn’t seen on social media or read my tribute to Rory post from last week, in July we lost our precious dog and furry best friend. This was my first foray into pet grief, having not had a significant pet that has been a big part of my life before I haven’t had much experience with coping with the loss of a pet.
Just for reference, the photos in this post are not of Rory as I wanted to keep this post more neutral
I’d had a dog when I was a kid but she died when I was only around 5, so naturally, I don’t remember her much. Rory was a different story, having had him since I was around 18. I’m 30 now, he died a few months before I turned 30. So I spent my entire 20’s with him, a whole decade.
That’s a long time and naturally spending that much time with a pet – day after day – and losing them is going to bring a whole lot of grief with it. Adjusting to your pet getting older and coping with the loss of a pet is never easy. Made harder by that select group of people that claim “it’s just a pet / it’s just a dog / it’s just a cat”. Which, any pet owner will know, is absolute rubbish.
Despite this being my first experience with losing a pet, I feel like I’ve handled it with a lot of grace and level-headedness.
Of course there is NO right or wrong way to grieve a pet; all emotions are perfectly normal. Some people are able to get on with their lives after the loss of a pet quite quickly, others feel that absence much deeper. Neither is the “right” way to grieve for a pet. What an utterly ridiculous notion.
But I’m just stating from my own experience, I feel like how I handled it and what I did after he died really helped me in the grieving process. Which is why I wanted to share my own tips for coping with the loss of a pet with you today.
Obviously I just want to state before we go into the tips that these are things that worked for ME. They won’t work for everyone. If you’re struggling with coping with the loss of a pet and really don’t know where to turn or what to do, some of these tips might be beneficial for you.
7 Tips To Help You When Coping With the Loss of a Pet:
Continue to make them part of your surroundings
Rory had his own box in the cupboard which contained all of his food, leads, bowl etc. He also – like many dogs – had a dedicated space for his bed. In our case, it was in the living room. After he died, I went through all his stuff but kept the box in the cupboard with the things of his we wanted to keep.
The box is still there now. It’s still “his” cupboard, with his box. Similarly, the space where his bed used to be now contains a new table with a photo of him on it along with his ashes and a candle. I felt like this was a great way to keep him part of our house and part of our surroundings.
Find an appropriate way to memorialize them
Like I just mentioned, we’ve memorialized Rory by keeping his ashes and placing them in a sweet little urn which we keep on the table in the living room. We also have a nice photo of him, the blanket he always slept on, some of his tail hair that the vet kindly cut for us and a USB of photos I’ve gathered from the past decade.
Memorializing your pet and making a point of marking their life can be really helpful. It can be helpful in acknowledging what a big part of your life they were, along with acknowledging closure that yes, they are gone from your life but they’ll always hold a special place in your heart.
For memorialization, you might want to consider:
- Keeping the ashes and placing them in an urn
- Scattering the ashes (or part of the ashes) somewhere that they liked to go
- Using ashes or hair to be made into pieces of jewelry
- Planting a tree or a flower in the garden with a remembrance plaque
- Getting a pet portrait commissioned of your pet
Practice self care in abundance
At any time in your life where things feel heavy and you’re in need of some emotional support, practicing self care should always be your number one priority and the same goes for coping with the loss of a pet. You’re going to feel extremely mentally fragile, probably physical and emotionally exhausted and drained from the events of losing a pet.
This might be a good time to take a few days off work, if you’re able. Cutting down your to-do list and prioritizing tasks as to not overwhelm yourself. Cancelling some plans you don’t *really* want. And just generally taking time to tend to your needs as they arise. Because they will come in waves.
Talk to people or seek additional help
When Rory died, one thing that helped me TREMENDOUSLY was talking. Even having a conversation with the vet who put him down made me feel a little better. I thought talking about it would just make me feel worse but it had the complete opposite effect. I know people always say to talk about things that are troubling you – they really do have a point.
You might find solace with people online, perhaps someone who’s going through the same thing. Friends, family, neighbors or even seeking professional help if you’re REALLY struggling with coping with the loss of a pet. The Samaritans might be a good option, to just get things off your chest. Or counselling / grief support groups.
Consider donating items as a way to do something good from the situation
There’s nothing good about losing a pet. That much is obvious. But I personally believe that you can DO good from almost any situation. For us, I decided to donate some of his things (unopened food, unused toys, an almost-new bed) to Dogs Trust, with the knowledge that their dogs needed it more than we did.
And given that these dogs were in a re-homing center and we were able to give Rory 11 and a half long, loving years of cuddles, food and safety, it was the least I could do for dogs which aren’t as fortune as he was.
If the death occurred by euthanasia, remember that you did the most loving thing
More often than not, the decision is taken for euthanasia to take place on a pet that is old, due to illness which isn’t going to improve. Of course nobody wants to think about this and on the surface, it can seem like the WORST thing in the world. But what helped me, was reminding myself that it was the kindest thing we could have done.
One final act of love for the dog that gave us so many years of smiles and laugher.
Collate photos or videos and keep them in a safe space
And finally, having photos and videos of your beloved pet on hand can be a great thing for when you miss them and want to be reminded of their cute face, their funny noises or their weird quirks. I collated all the photos I had (yes, from 11 years) and put them all on one USB stick, which is available to anyone who wants it.
It’s important to remember and to note that everyone’s experience with grief when coping with the loss of a pet is different. This might depend on the amount of time you had your pet, the amount of time you spent with your pet, whether you lived alone with your pet and many other factors.
As I’ve already mentioned, there’s no right or wrong way to mourn a pet. It’s a terrible, heart-breaking loss and it’ll never be easy. But it will be unique to YOU. All these tips I’ve mentioned helped me in some small (or big) way and I hope that for anyone else struggling, you might be able to find solace in at least one of these.