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On Pet Loss and Grief

by Jennifer Regis 10 months ago in humanity
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“I guess you don’t really own a dog, you rent them, and you have to be thankful that you had a long lease.” – Joe Garagiola

On Pet Loss and Grief
Photo by Dasha Urvachova on Unsplash

One of the most difficult parts of owning a pet is having to say goodbye to our treasured friend as they cross the Rainbow Bridge. There’s a old saying: where there is grief, there was once great love.

I lost my own fur baby, Midori, shortly after an emotionally and physically difficult move and even though a few years have passed, I still get a little teary-eyed if I find an old toy she buried under the couch. Grief is never easy to deal with, but I’d like to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the years, both as a veterinarian and a pet parent, that has helped make it a little easier.

Midori watching the world go by

Try not to second guess yourself

Hindsight is 20/20 and it is natural question our decisions. If our pet had been battling a chronic illness for some time, whether we decide to euthanize or they die naturally, we may wonder if there was another test, another treatment, or another medication, did we say goodbye too soon or did we hold on too long.

On the other hand, if we lose our pets suddenly, as with a trauma or an undetected disease process, we may wonder if that thing that happened that one time six months ago was an early sign of something wrong we missed, or if we could have gotten help sooner or if we could have just been there with them if we didn’t decide to go to work that day.

By Jonas Vincent on Unsplash

These are questions that have no answer and we can play the ‘what if’ game forever and still question what we’ve done. Even those of us who work in veterinary medicine can get stuck in that what if cycle - what if I had been better, faster, smarter, had more time, more resources, noticed more, listened more. But the important thing to remember is that we cannot change the past and we do the best we can with the information we have at the time.

It’s like Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better do better”.

By Sasha Sashina on Unsplash

Take the time you need to grieve

In May, Scientific American published a great article discussing the need to take pet loss as seriously as the loss of a significant person in our lives. We’ve lost our companions, our confidants, our unconditional love. Losing a beloved pet is often an emotionally devastating experience, and even though we see our pets as members of our family, there is still seems to be a stigma about openly mourning their loss:

“Many of the societal mechanisms of social and community support are absent when a pet dies. Few of us ask our employers for time off to grieve a beloved cat or dog because we fear doing so would paint us as overly sentimental, lacking in maturity or emotionally weak. Studies have found that social support is a crucial ingredient in recovering from grief of all kinds. Thus, we are not only robbed of invaluable support systems when our pet dies, but our own perceptions of our emotional responses are likely to add an extra layer of distress. We may feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel and, consequently, hesitate to disclose our feelings to our loved ones. That additional shame complicates the process of recovery by making it more lengthy and complex than it should be.”

- Why we need to take pet loss seriously, Scientific American, May 22, 2018

By Jamie Street on Unsplash

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no statute of limitations on that grief. There should be no judgement, self-imposed or otherwise, on how you mourn. Sometimes, we take time before we adopt a new friend or we adopt one right away or we decide not to for several years. We take time to adopt new routines and new habits. We do what we need to do to heal, and that’s okay.

Remember and share the happy stories

My favorite story about Midori to tell is when we were living in the Florida Keys - she got out of the front yard and jumped into the canal by our house...a canal that had seen 6:30 in the morning...on one of the very few cold days of the year...before I had to go to work. I mustered my momma super strength and fished her out with one hand. I was stressed and angry, but she thought it was the best adventure ever. I love this story because it highlights her personality so well, the rambunctious carefree puppy that I loved for 10 1/2 years. Stories are the key to feeling better. These are the stories that help us remember the good times, keep us connected to our pet friends as we want them to live on in our memories, and connect to others who have gone through similar experiences. These are the stories that can help us reframe our thoughts so that they lead us to a better place.

By Ja San Miguel on Unsplash

There are many quotes about pet loss but I’ll leave you with one of my favorites:

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”


About the author

Jennifer Regis

Veterinarian, writer, yogini, budding tantrika, sometimes singer, wannabe dancer and all-around wild woman. Come along on my journey of self- discovery. Pronouns: she/her

follow me on Insta @ patronsaintoffractiousanimals

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