The loss of a pet


The loss of a family member is always hard to bear but when a pet is killed in a meaningless accident it makes things even harder.

It’s a sunny summer’s day, and the gate leading to the street has somehow been left open. Our dogs take the chance and sneaks out to explore the world beyond the comfortable garden. Two blocks from home she is run over by a car – and dies instantly. The situation is aweful for the entire family. One minute we are all together and happy – and the next we have to bid farewell to our beloved dog. The children are heartbroken and there is nothing I can do to comfort them. My heart is also broken and I am thus paralyzed. Completely unable to take action.

What happens next?
Next, I want to focus on how you can handle the situation and help yourself and your family through the mourning-process. In addition to the pain of the loss, one must also process and handle the emotions that occur in the event of a sudden death. Emotions such as shock, rage, denial and guilt. Guilt due to thoughts that speculate on what you could have done to prevent the tragedy. A pet’s death is always traumatic, even if death has long been foretold and expected. We are never quite prepared to let go of our beloved pet, regardless of how long we’ve been preparing ourselves for it’s death. But at least when the pet is older and has been suffering for a longer period of time, the owner has had time to prepare herself for the inevitable and on the final farewells. However, when the pet is suddenly and tragically lost, there is no time to get accustomed to the idea, no time for last minute preparations and certainly no time for farewells. Everything just happens suddenly and brutally.

Children’s reactions
Things tend to get more complicated when there are children involved. The parents, who themselves are in mourning, must now guide their children through what is usually their first moments of grief in their lives. There is no simple way to assist children in managing the loss of a pet. Children experience sorrow just as deeply as adults, and sometimes even more. When the pet has been close to the children or if it’s the child’s first experience of death, things are particularly traumatic. Hence, it is important to recognize the child’s pain and distress and not to dismiss it as something “that will soon pass”. By understanding the phases of mourning, the parent can significantly facilitate this process.

Shock is almost always the first emotion that is experienced. It occurs when the body responds to an occurrence that the mind cannot accept. Physically, the person feels like a mess. Everybody, however, reacts differently to shock – some burst out in tears while some appear untouched. The effects of shock can last from a few hours a few days. During this time, it is important to be lenient towards yourself and the children and to remember that you have been affected by the tragic loss of a family member. It is important not to dismiss the facts and to tone down the signs of grief. Do not attempt to stop your children from crying over their pet. It is important for them to be allowed to express their feelings of pain, and you are to teach them through your own example. It is also important not to listen when somebody utters words such as: “Just a dog!” or “Just buy a new one!”. Your pet might very well have been “just a dog” to the outside world, but to you and your children it was a very special family member.

After the initial shock has faded, the next step in the mourning-process is rage. Most people in mourning look for something or someone to blame. It can be the driver of the car, whoever left the gate open or even the veterinary, who couldn’t prevail in saving the dog’s life. Rage is just another way or handling the loss, but it’s very important not to get stuck in this phase. Regardless of your reasons, the rage is not going to bring back your pet.

There is often much guilt involved in the loss of of a pet. People find themselves haunted by thoughts portraying what could have been done to prevent the death. When a pet has to be put away by the means of euthanasia, there is always doubt on whether the decision is correct. To let your pet fall into an endless sleep can also be viewed as a last sign of betrayal. In times like this it is important to remember the reasons behind this decision. If your pet is put away it is a means to stop it’s suffering and a chance to end it’s life in a dignified way.

This is by far the longest stage in the mourning-process. You are no longer denying the facts. You are no longer hoping for a miracle – to wake one morning to find your pet alive and well, like waking up from a nightmare. This is the stage where you simply miss the pet or feel sorry that she is no longer there. Many people are surprised about the depth of the sorrow they can experience. Many expect to be over the loss relatively fast, mostly due to the fact that is was “just a pet” and not a person that died. Thoughts like these aren’t just unrealistic, they are also unjust. It is the memory about what makes it so wonderful to have pets – their unconditional love, loyalty and camaraderie. And for those whose pet has become their main companion, this step in the process can indeed be very time-consuming.

This is the healing stage of the mourning-process. Now the strongest sensations of pain are starting to fade. The dog is still missed and you still think of her, but now more subjectively that with simply with grief. Once again, there is no time limit to reach this stage. It can take anything between months and years.

A new dog?
The decision to replace the old pet is a very personal and individual matter. Some people simply can’t endure the thought of giving their heart to another animal. Others choose to instantly replace it. Most people, however, need to take their time to mourn before they can start thinking of getting a pet.

Burial or cremation?
A burial in the backyard is not always the most practical solution from a legal point of view. In Spain it is strictly prohibited to burry a pet in the garden. Regardless on whether your pet has been put away or died tragically, you can always go to your veterinary clinic and asked to be put in a secluded room. And maybe with some lit candles on the table. Here you can cry out in piece and start identifying your emotions. The clinic will thereafter arrange for your pet to be cremated. You can choose between separate - individual – or collective cremation. If you choose separate cremation the ashes will be returned to you within a few days in a small urn. After that it’s up to the family to decide what to do with the remains of their loved one. Some people choose to put the urn in a special place, while some choose to strew the ashes unto a favourite area or perhaps into the soil of a plant.

This article is dedicated to our beloved little Doobie. Thank you for the years we shared and all the joy you gave our family.

Susanne Kamu
Clinica Veterinaria Pet Vet Kamu
C/. Maestra Aspiazu, Puebla Lucia, ES-29640 Fuengirola (Málaga) Spain.
Tel: (+34) 952 667 333,
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