The Loss of a Pet
by Margaret Schill
The death of a pet is an intensely sorrowful and painful event. The grieving is often as intense and painful as the grieving over the loss of a human loved one. Many people don't understand the degree of significance pets have in the lives of pet owners, and just how very deep a loving bond there can be.
Pet owners grieving for the death of a beloved animal companion often don't have their grief accepted and validated by others, at least not for long. Many friends, family members and acquaintances don't understand when a person is grieving intensely over the death of a pet, and understand even less when the grief continues for months after the death a pet. Callous comments such as, "Well, you can get a new cat/dog," or, "It was just a cat," are then sometimes said. Those grieving for the loss of their pet are sometimes considered to be getting carried away, maybe even a bit "crazy". Worse, the person grieving for their pet can come to accept the views of some other people that it is not normal or correct to be so upset about the death of an animal, and question their own feelings and reactions.
Grief is a normal, unavoidable reaction to the loss of any loved one. Grief is a very healthy psychological response that requires expression and acknowledgement. No two people experience grief the exact same way, or for the same length of time. Denying or suppressing feelings of grief can sometimes actually prolong the healing process.
Since no one understands the feelings of the loss of pet as well as others who have lost a pet, or who have a deep bond with their current pets, those are the best people to share your feelings with. Internet forums/discussion groups related to pets can sometimes be the best place to share your feelings, as the members of such groups do understand and many have experienced the death of a pet.
W. V. Cats has a forum with a Support section. You need to be a registered member to see our forum's Support section, to insure privacy for sensitive matters.
Children and the death of a pet
The death of a pet can be a devastating event for adults, but sometimes it is even more so for children. The death of a pet is often a child's first experience with the loss of a loved one, and they have difficulty handling the conflicting feelings. Be honest with children. Don't tell them that the pet is "sleeping forever" or "went away". We want to shield children from upsetting events, but not being honest makes things worse. Children take things literally and you don't want a child to become afraid to go to sleep, be afraid when parents are seen sleeping, or feel that the pet left the home due to not likeing the people. So explain that the pet died and is not able to come back. A book meant for children about the death of a pet can be very helpful for children. See below for suggested books.
It is best to allow children to process and experience their grief after the death of a pet, rather than immediately getting a new pet. It is important for children to work through their grief. A new pet won't make them not feel badly any longer over the death of the first pet anyway.
A figurine or other type remembrance can bring comfort to children, as well as adults. When one of my cats died when I was a child, a small statue the same color as my cat brought me comfort for many years. I still have that little statue.
Comforting Books Regarding Death of Pets
Books can give comfort
Books help people of all ages deal with the death of a pet.
For children, not only do books help them to understand and deal with the death of a pet, but books help open dialog with parents or other adults about death. Children's books about pet loss can bring comfort to adults as well. In times of great grief, a simple book with illustrations can be of more immediate comfort than a lengthy book.
For Every Cat an Angel, by Christine Davis
In this story, every cat has a guardian angel and the guardian angel helps it find it's forever person. When a cat is at the end of it's earthly life it becomes a "forever cat" and rejoins it's angel. Also describes how your "forever cat" wants you to be happy even if it means bringing a new cat into your life.
Also available, For Every Dog an Angel
Cat Heaven (Hardcover), written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant
Using rhyming text and simple, colorfull illustrations, a paradise is described in which cats are fed from God's countertop, sleep on God's bed, where there are thousands of toys, and soft angel laps in which to cuddle. God is presented as a kindly older man who personally cares for the cats, including washing the cats' bowls and even letting a kitty sleep on His head. This book serves to provide comfort for children mourning the death of a pet.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst
A little boy's cat, Barney, dies. The family has a backyard burial, and as part of honoring Barney, the child thinks of 10 good things about Barney. This story conveys that death is part of the life cycle. It leaves open what happens to a being after death in the spiritual sense, to allow dialog between adults and children as fits their religious beliefs.
When a Pet Dies, by Fred Rogers
An illustrated book about a child's feelings of the death of a pet cat, by the beloved Mr. Rogers of the children's television show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood". This book reassures children that grieving is a natural and healing process, and that no matter how much they hurt at the time of their loss, their hurt will ease.
I'll Always Love You, by Hans Wilhelm
A story about Elfie, a dachshund, and her special boy as they go through life together, until one day, Elfie's life is over. Staying away from any particular religious stance on death, this story provides comfort on the death of a pet.