What Not To Say To Grieving Pet Owners

this was posted on my facebook wall by Amy. Isn't it beautiful?!

this was posted on my facebook wall by Amy. Isn’t it beautiful?!

Last week we lost Dog and since I have a blog and writing has always been my go-to coping strategy, I shared some of his story with you guys.

I got an outpouring of love, warmth and comfort in response. Like a lovely virtual hug.

Sincere, heartfelt thanks to all of you who read that post and took the time to send me a little note of support.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when someone loses their pet. This list isn’t meant as a rebuke. I think the most important thing is to say something, rather than just ignore the fact that they’re hurting.

But if you really want to help out a grieving animal lover, please consider the below:

1. “You’ll be fine in a few days.”

Losing a pet is losing a loved one and, for most people, it takes time to recover. Imposing a time frame on grief only sets the mourner up for failure. Having said that, if it does take a few days, that’s fine. If it takes a few years then that’s fine too.

The bottom line here is that there’s no ‘right’ way to grieve. As a concerned friend, all you can do is be there while they ride it out.

this is how I felt after Dog died. In fact, I still feel this way. I expect it to stick around for a while :(

this is how I felt after Dog died. In fact, I still feel this way. I expect it to stick around for a while 😦

2. “So do you think you’ll get a new cat/dog/goldfish?”

As the warmth was leaving Dog’s body, our vet started to give us the whole ‘don’t-rush-into-a-new-pet’ speech. He meant well, and he’s obviously speaking from experience, but it was totally redundant.

Each animal is different and each animal deserves to be fully mourned before another joins the family. Sure, we’ll probably get another dog some day (I hate not being a dog owner) but right now all I want is the old one back.

3. “I wouldn’t put any animal down until it stopped…[eating/playing/pooping etc]”

No-one wants to put their pet to sleep. It’s an unbelievably painful decision. Once they’ve made that decision, it’s insensitive (if not downright cruel) to query it.

Apart from anything else, no-one knows a dog like its owner. If they thought the time was right, the time was right. It’s never up for discussion.

*and if you think I’m being unrealistic including this on the list, a friend who euthanized her dog about a month before ours heard variations of this response from two different people and was understandably distraught.

4. “I’ll give you some space.”

My mother, thinking she was doing the right thing, ceased all contact with me a few days after Dog’s death. When she did email, she said: “I wanted to give you some space to heal.”

I know where she’s coming from, but it really wasn’t what I needed. I needed to talk and vent and share memories of my beloved pet.

As I’ve already said though, people grieve differently. Some might want to be alone. But it’s not your call. Let them decide, ask if you can help and if they want to keep their distance then respect that choice.


from healingpetloss.com 


5. “You can come over and hang out with our dog/cat/rabbit if you want..”

If someone had just lost their mother, would you tell them: “Hey, that’s okay. If you want to, you can come round to my house and hang out with my mother.”

No, you wouldn’t (or at least I hope you wouldn’t, otherwise we have bigger problems than insensitivity) so don’t assume that it’s appropriate when the situation involves animals.

Sometimes it helps to spend time with another dog/cat/whatever, but most times it can just be a painful reminder of what you’ve lost.

True story: a friend of ours asked us to dog-sit his puppy less than a week after losing our own dog. Needless to say, I was not into it. Don’t be that guy.

Things you can do to help:

Acknowledge that they are hurting. This is so important with pet loss because all too often society demands that you get over it quickly and back to ‘normal’ life. This need to brush the emotion under the carpet can be very harmful. Acknowledge their pain, ask if you can do anything to help and be there to listen if they need it…for as long as they need it.

Provide a distraction. In the days after Dog, all I wanted was to get out of the house. I saw him everywhere, and it made the pain so much more intense. What really helped was keeping busy – getting coffee with a friend, buddying up at the gym, having someone accompany me on a long walk. Don’t be afraid to invite your friend out or stop by to check how they’re doing.

Listen. This is perhaps the most obvious, and the most necessary. Although it hurts to talk about a lost pet, it’s very necessary to heal. I bored the ears off anyone who would listen (including you guys, my internet family!) about Dog and all his adorable quirks and mannerisms and how hard it was to say goodbye. Sharing is healing.

see you soon, buddy

I’ll see you again, buddy


Weigh in: What would you add to the list? Have you ever lost a pet and, if so, what helped you heal? 



9 thoughts on “What Not To Say To Grieving Pet Owners

  1. I have lost many pets and really, the only thing that helps is time. In fact, I still miss my cat Stanley, who was 19 when he died. He has been gone for over 15 years and I have had many other cats and dogs in my life, but Stanley holds a very special place in my heart. My pets have always been members of my family and when they die, I grieve. Plain and simple.

    I wouldn’t rush into replacing Dog – because he is irreplaceable. Life goes on, we miss our loved pets who have passed, and we remember all their quirks and sweet ways, and someday we don’t cry so much, but we still get teary-eyed…and it’s okay!

    I’m sorry about Dog, and I know you loved him and he knew you loved him…that’s the important thing.

  2. I lost my dog 4 years ago. I still think there cannot possibly be another dog as awesome as my Greta.
    I think your ideas on what others can do are perfect. I really wanted a distraction and I really wanted people to acknowledge my pain.
    I took the day off work on that dreadful day. The next day I walked into my office and found flowers, a sympathy card signed by all my co-workers and I got lots of hugs. Greta was our work “mascot” in her last months. Not able to stay alone for my entire work day, I was granted permission to make her a bed space in my office. I worked with elementary school kids who gave her so much love. After she was gone, they gave me lots of hugs and cried with me as we talked about the sweet memories. It made such an impact on me and helped in my healing to know others shared my pain and my happiness in the memories of the sweetest mutt I’ve ever loved. I am just now thinking it would be kind of nice to have a dog again, but I’m not quite ready. Thinking about the possibility has brought up the sadness just a little, however now I have many more happy memories and think less of her last few months of pain and sickness. She was such a silly mutt. I have great stories that make me and others giggle.
    My thoughts are with you as you grieve your loss. Dog sounds like your most amazing love.

  3. I have 5 baby girls right now and each one has a special place in my heart! Four are chihuahuas, two sisters we have had since they were 6 weeks old and two we adopted a few years ago when their person died. They are 12 to 14 years old and I am already thinking about when I will have to grieve there loss. The two we had since puppies have gone camping with us until the last year. They are getting to the point it is more comfortable for them to stay home and it kills me every time I have to leave them. Our fifth baby girl is a 9 year old sheppard mix named after my Mom. She is a serious Mama’s girl!

    Everyone always teases me for calling them my baby girls, but as you know, they are a big part of your life and they will always be my baby girls. I have lost many pets over the years and each one has been hard. I still have pics of them in very visible spots all over the house.

    That being said, here is a sad/funny story about the one and only baby boy we lost. He was a long hair chihuahua ( yes, they are my favorite) and he was 14 years old. He was pretty sick at the end and we had to make that dreaded decision. After a couple of weeks of crying and bawling, my youngest daughter and I decided we had to bring him to the vet. She was an adult at the time, but still living at home and he was our birthday present ( our birthdays are a week apart). She took one of her favorite little towels and wrapped him up, we walked to the truck crying our eyes out and as I was helping her into the truck, he let out one little yelp and left us. At that point we were crying and laughing cause it was like he was telling us that he was going on his terms, not ours. Needless to say, we had a doggie funeral and burial with him still wrapped in my daughters favorite little towel. (It is actually hard typing this and not crying and he has been gone for 7 years).

    When it comes to grieving the loss of a pet, I am horrible! Most people think I ‘over react’, but you know what, I don’t care. I love each one and it is hard when they are gone. You take whatever time you need and grieve however is best for you. And just like when you lose a person loved one and someone doesn’t understand your process of grieving, just ignore them and try to think of a comforting or funny thought about your precious Dog. I’m sure he is watching and hoping that your grief will be short because he loved you just as much.

    A serious dog lover, feeling your pain.

    • Thanks Jamie, and thanks for sharing about your fur babies. I love that your little guy chose his own moment. No such thing as overreacting in grief I think. When you love something that much, it’s impossible to not feel like your heart is broken. I’m sure I’ll still be crying over Dog many years down the road, but it gets a little easier every day. Thanks again and I hope you and your 5 girls have a great weekend 🙂

  4. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. We lost our last dog, Nog, literally a year ago now. It was the most heartbreaking time, it was awful, I cried for days and days. I couldn’t believe how many people asked if we’d get another one! I think even if your friends/family are not pet people, they need to understand that you have lost a member of your family. Nog was 15 and a half and all of a sudden he wasn’t there any more, we went from being a family of 4 to a family of 3 and the hole in our lives and our home was massive.
    I absolutely understand what you’re going through and all I say is take your time and do whatever you need to do xx

  5. Just found your wonderful blog. I stumbled upon your blog about losing Dog. I write this with tears streaming down my cheeks. I had to help my beloved Jack Russell cross the rainbow bridge in May. My heart is still broken and I miss him terribly. Life just isn’t the same but we muddle through. He was 15 and lived a good life. Thanks for the advise to this that just “don’t understand”. Keep up the great blog. Cathi

    • Thanks Cathi. I’m glad you found me! Sorry to hear about your Jack. I’m sure people have said “well he had 15 years, that’s a good long life” or words to that effect but it’s never enough is it? Even if our guy had made it to 20 it still wouldn’t have been enough time. They are so precious. And yes, I completely understand about missing them for months afterwards. It’s been three months since we let Dog go and I still look for him every morning.

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