No one can ever deny that the amount of love & loyalty that a dog shows towards his pet parent. He becomes an integral part of the family in no time. Loss of the pet is heart-breaking for all family members. Here’s how to cope with pet loss.
Anyone who has loved and is pet parent to a pet will someday experience pet loss. How it affects us and how we deal with it depends upon many factors, including the situation leading to the loss and our own emotional makeup. Grief and mourning have no set time limit. The most affected families are those who either had no previous experience with significant loss or death or feeling of guilt for a death or untimely demise of young pet. The additive factors could be deaths that have no cause or that could have been averted or not being present at the time of death and finally comments from friends and acquaintances that can cast doubt on the medical treatment procedures.
Here’s how to cope up with pet loss.
Gradual seasoning: For avoiding the state of shock or mental breakdown, parents have to play greater role by making the child understand the rule of life. Gradual seasoning of the child, which can be termed as ‘anticipatory grief’ mind, can reduce the sense of loss to a great extent. It implies to grown-ups also, particularly the lady of the house, since it is she who spends most of the time with the pet.
Give a decent burial: One of the best methods of remembering your beloved pet is to bury him in your own backyard or farmhouse and plant a good flowering or fragrant plant or a tree, preferably which will have good shade or fruits. This gesture of yours will always remind and refresh you about your pet but more importantly, it will provide nesting, shade and fruits to many birds and animals.
Take time to grief: Grief is the most normal and natural emotion that we can feel. Grief is very healthy psychological response that requires expression and acknowledgement. Attempts to suppress feelings of grief can actually prolong the healing process.
Pet loss and child: Normally, the pet is brought home on the insistence of children. Both of them grow together and share many memorable moments. That’s the precise reason why children suffer more from the pet loss. As the days pass by, one should be mentally prepared for the unfortunate end. Many pets, particularly the smaller breeds, live up to 14-15 years which means that the pet has been a playmate of the child throughout his/her formative and adolescent period and it is he/she who suffers more. One can console children by sympathising them in grief or few statements like “He had a good life” or “We did everything that was possible, be it caring or treatment and money alone cannot buy life,” etc. Now giving a statement like “Life goes on, you’ll find new friends or just get a new pet” delivers a negative feeling to a child that “Loved ones are easily replaced” that’s a wrong message.
Pet’s personal belongings: Please do not give away the pet’s personal belongings immediately. Give the child and the family the time to deal with the personal loss. Only when all individuals in a family are comfortable then donate the pet’s things.
Personal loss of a friend, a family member, a soul mate: There will be a void in the house which will be un-replaceable. Corners, moments, incidents will make each member of the family miss the furry friend. Talk about him/her—remember all the beautiful moments you shared, write in a journal…it will take you closer to healing but the memories will always be there.
Self expression: Let the child/family members express their love in any manner they want to. Light a candle, make a collage, write a poem. This bond which has been shared with your family buddy, partner, soul mate is PRECIOUS and will be treasured ALWAYS!
Getting another pet: Often, families, after losing a pet, say that they will never keep a pet again as the loss is unbearable. Many homes bring a new pet after the loss of the first one. That is the best method of overcoming the loss but there is a word of caution. Never try to compare the new one with the old one, particularly if the new pet is of the same breed.
Do not forget that they may be of the same breed but are two different individuals with different genetic makeup.
Reach out to other pets: Now there could be situations where one may not like to have a new pet for family reasons. The void that has been created is difficult to fill up. Under such circumstance one can go to some friend’s place, who has pets and play with them, take them out for a short walk, get them some treat or babysit for the pet, if the pet parent is going out where the pet cannot accompany them, etc.
Visit an animal shelter: One can also think of going to some animal shelter, feed and groom the dogs or help the shelter with some animal activity.
Caring for the street dogs: Lastly one can make friends with some street dogs and just take care & feed them.
(Dr Kailash Marwah, MVSc and PhD (surgery), is executive president of SPCA, Nagpur).