How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet
So its been about a year now since my feline companion passed away. When we make the decision to own a pet we know that chances are we will probably outlive them, and yet when the time comes this knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. The situation is often made harder by the fact that it can also be difficult to know how to mourn such a loss; Not everybody understands what it is like to allow an animal to enter your family, and it can seem strange to them that you would need time to grieve when you could just go out and buy another pet (for example I was asked too soon afterwards “so are you getting another cat then?”)
For some people having the opportunity to spend your energy on a new animal can help, but it could also make things worse because you’ll constantly be comparing them to the one you just lost as if you’re replacing them. Just like people, no two animals are the same. My cat was very affectionate and didn’t like being left alone, whereas many other cats are more independent. When I lost her it was so upsetting that I actually declared that I wouldn’t ever want another pet because I couldn’t bare to go through the hurt again; I’m an animal lover though and now that I’ve had the time to deal with it I would actually really like to be able to share my life with a cat again. When you are ready to make this move it is a good idea to not think of this as replacing the previous animal, but to instead thank them for offering you such wonderful companionship that you would once again like to share your life with another.
When you loose a pet, you’re also loosing a routine and this can partly be what makes it so difficult to deal with. You have to nurture your pet almost like you would a child; making sure that they are fed, safe and free from sickness. I also had a routine with my cat where she would run up the stairs to greet us in the morning (meowing as loudly as she could), but the day when I woke up and that didn’t happen It felt very odd. It’s not unusual to sometimes feel like you can still hear them or to catch glimpses in the corner of your eye.
Different people cope with loss in different ways and it’s important to respect that. For example, my family tend to prefer to keep busy to distract themselves from how they’re feeling, but to me this felt like avoiding the huge elephant in the room. I was mostly frightened of the idea that her memories were going to be forgotten so I spent the first week making sure all of my photos of her were safe. I later printed my own photo book so that I have a permanent reminder of the time we spent together. I also like to have a good cry and to feel like I can freely talk about my feelings with others. Some people like to read poetry too. In the end I resorted to my games to help me to fully move on (see my previous post – Discussing Video Games (The Positive and the Negative.))
One of the most difficult decisions to make towards the end of an animals life is whether or not to use euthanasia; a battle between delaying your own grief and doing what is best for the animal. I’m personally in support of euthanasia if it means relieving suffering, but it can often be a matter of when because you want to be able to give them a fighting chance or to allow them to have as many days as possible. You can’t ask an animal if they are in pain either, but you can tell by observing their behaviour. I hoped that my cat would recover, but deep down I knew that it was only going to get worse. We finally made the decision because we thought that her quality of life wasn’t what it should be; she wasn’t eating and could barely move. Every day I was waking up in fear of what I might find, and so I’m glad that we allowed her to go peacefully. If you do want to take this path you may not want to sit with them, but make sure you don’t regret this decision later because the closure of being there could really help.
One of the great things about animal companions is that no matter who you are or what you do, on returning home they will still be there to greet you. I had my cat for 16 years and no matter how much difficulty I had through school, university and the short time after she was always there by my side, asking for little in return; therefore it is pretty understandable to feel the need to grieve. It’s also common to feel a little relief after the moment has passed; do not feel guilty about this. I knew my cat was sick and nearing the end of her life, but while she was still around I couldn’t start the process of moving on. Chances are you will also continue to miss them for months if not years afterwards, but it gets easier not to think about it constantly. I was actually very lucky to have my cat for 16 years which is a good lifespan for them, so now I prefer to celebrate that we were able to give her such a long and happy life rather than to continue feeling sad for her. It might have been difficult at the end, but I wouldn’t change any of it.