Coping With the Loss of a Pet

When you have loved an animal truly, their passing can be devastating. In fact, the physical responses of grief can even affect your health.  When it was time to say goodbye to my nearly 15 year old Boston Terrier, I cried so hard for three day that I gave myself Bronchitis that lasted almost two months.  Of course I had expected the loss to be difficult, but it was far more traumatic than I had ever imagined.

Pets provide companionship, reduce loneliness, depression, ease anxiety, and lower blood pressure.  By these attributes alone, it could be said that all companion animals function as therapy animals.

Many of us refer to our pets as “fur babies”, even if we have children.  Terms of endearment such as this make it clear that these are not just animals, they are family.  As a part of our family, it is only natural that their routine becomes a part of our daily routine, and vice versa.  We become accustomed to being woken up by a leash delivery, followed by coffee and kibble, followed by newspaper fetching and a nice neighborhood walk.  When there is no leash, no kibble, no one to bring us the paper, and no neighborhood that needs marking… How do we proceed with our day? Routines provide us with structure and emotional wellbeing.  Additionally, the responsibility of caring for another creature gives us endless pride and satisfaction.

Often times, we rely on our routines with our animal friends to connect us socially.  Meeting up with friends at the dog park, posting pictures of them on our social media, or engaging in activities such as agility training all connect us with fellow animal lovers.  For this reason, when our pet passes away we can feel as if we have lost that part of our identity.

It is common to find it difficult to reach out for support.  Possibly we are fearful of being thought of as excessively emotional or overreacting.  Similarly, few people ask employers for bereavement leave, not wanting to be judged as soft, immature, or weak.  Seek out the empathy of people who have gone through a similar situation and allow that commonality to validate your grief and ease your pain.  Whether or not you ask for, or receive time off, it is important that you give yourself latitude to grieve in your own way, on your own timeline.  Celebrate their life by setting aside moments to reflect on the time you were fortunate enough to have been given together, and call on fond memories often.

I now have a wonderful, hilarious, adorable “new” dog.  Yet, even though I said goodbye to my two old boys over a year ago,  I still hear their nails clicking on my hardwood floors as they trailed behind me around the house, and remember their medication times regularly.  Moving on after the loss of a pet can be agonizing, but their memory will always be a part of you. They may be gone from your home, but never from your heart.

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The Rainbow Bridge

“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old, are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt, or maimed are made whole and strong again. Just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing. They each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together...but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers.

Suddenly...he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster, and faster.

You have been spotted.

When you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face. Your hands again caress the beloved head. You look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then... you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.”


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