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