When It’s Time To Say Goodbye – Losing A Pet

Losing a pet is a heart-wrenching experience. Whether it's a cherished dog having seizures, a horse being sold, or a kitten's tragic end, the pain of parting is intense. So, how do we deal with this grief? How do we say goodbye when the time comes? And why do we keep opening our hearts to new pets, knowing that loss is inevitable?

In this article, we'll explore the complex emotions around losing a pet, the unique grief it triggers, and the coping strategies that can help us heal. From personal experiences with various animals to broader insights about mourning and moving on, we'll guide you through this sensitive subject without oversimplifying or trivializing the loss.

Whether you're currently grieving a pet or seeking to understand this universal aspect of owning an animal, read on to discover insights and support for this profound life experience.

Losing A Pet: The Painful Farewell

I'll never forget the day I watched my dog, Niki, suffer another epileptic seizure. These grand mal seizures had haunted her since she was just three months old. Over the course of three years, they had become relentless, occurring with terrifying frequency.

As a young teenager, I had grown up alongside Niki; she had been more than just a pet. She was my constant companion, my confidant, and my very best friend from the moment I brought her home as a tiny four-week-old pup.

The memory of that particular day still stings. Seeing her in distress, I somehow gathered all the strength I could muster and told my dad to call the vet. Overwhelmed by what was happening, I jumped on my bike to escape the scene, seeking refuge from the pain.

When I returned, everything had changed. Niki was gone. Along with her departure, I felt a profound loss of innocence that resonated deep within my soul.

Though I had experienced the death of other animals in my home, nothing had ever hit me quite like this. My mother, compassionate and gentle, took me aside to explain that Niki had died quickly, eased into peace by the vet's needle during her seizure.

Losing Niki wasn't just losing a pet; it was losing an irreplaceable part of myself. Her absence left a void that words can barely describe, marking a painful chapter in my young life and shaping my understanding of love, loss, and the bittersweet bond we share with our animal companions.

Unresolved Grief

I grieved hard for my friend. In my sadness, all I wanted to do was take my dog for a walk...

Shortly after that experience, I had to say goodbye to my equine soul mate. Arch was a half-Arab, Palomino stallion. I had helped to halter break him and was with him every moment possible. When his owner decided it was time to saddle break Arch, I felt intensely privileged to be the first on his back. And then we walked him out to the paddock, where Arch proceeded to knock over his owner and take me for a rodeo ride. But as a fourteen-year-old, I found the excitement exhilarating and rode him to a standstill.

Arch had to be sold. My family lived in Vancouver and having a horse to board was out of the question. So, with a very heavy heart and a never-kept promise that I would someday find and buy him, I watched Arch leave my life. The grief was unresolved. I checked every palomino I saw, hoping it was my old friend. There was nobody. There was no finality. And although I know it's physically impossible, I still wonder if he is alive.

Grief And Change

It is said that the only thing that stays constant is change. Grief is a major component of that change. Every loss we encounter in life is dealt with by grieving. Even changes that we view as positive, such as marriage, or going on to a better job, involve loss; loss of being single, loss of old workmates, and familiarity.

How we approach and encompass the ability to move on, depends on how well we have learned to grieve.

As my life continued and I acquired and lost many animals obtained through my years of working at a Children's Zoo, I became more and more adept at grieving. I stayed with my animal companions when it was absolutely necessary to euthanize them; I buried their bodies with appropriate ceremony.


Learning Process

Years later, that skill was put to the ultimate test when my twin sons died shortly after their birth.

Although nothing can prepare one for the death of a child, I did have enough knowledge to know how to deal with the situation and did not allow my fears to hold me back from doing what my heart wanted to do, while the opportunity was available.

Having animals gives us an ideal situation to teach our children and ourselves about responsibility, unconditional love, empathy, and grief.

Whether the animal leaves our lives through death or unavoidable parting to another home, the loss can be very real. Yet the intensity of the feeling usually depends on the relationship involved.

When a cat has a stillborn kitten at a breeding facility, there will most likely be feelings of sadness, mostly at the loss of potential as well as a financial investment. But when a kitten dies at a family's home, one whose investment has been mostly emotional, the feelings can be devastating.

No Quick Advice

When a friend has suffered a loss, we often have difficulty dealing with it ourselves.

So we tend to stay away for fear that we might say the wrong thing. Or we trivialize the loss to try and keep looking at "the bright side". Sometimes we will say such things as, "Well, it's not like it was a person or anything." Or, "At least you can always get another one."

Or, "Don't be so sad. After all, your cat has a good home, and you don't have to look after it anymore." Saying such things often makes the bereaved person feel that they must be wrong for feeling the way they do. In fact, there is no right or wrong way to feel, only what is.

Allow your friend, your child, or yourself, to just be. The way they are handling the situation is the way they need to handle it. Except for taking care of themselves physically, don't give advice; simply listen.

Be there with a shoulder to cry on and understand that grief may also bring with it some physical conditions, such as lack of appetite, listlessness, fatigue, back pain, insomnia; the list goes on.

losing a pet

Moving On While Grieving

Embracing the New Normal

It is difficult to continue "life as usual" since life is not as usual and never will be again. That is not to say that happiness is now a fleeting improbability.

But this existence has changed directions again, and that needs to be acknowledged before we can grow with the experience.

Honest Conversations with Children

Be honest with yourself and with your children. Do not place adult methods of dealing with situations on children; they have their own.

Kids are amazingly able to cope with death if allowed to do so. We tend to try to protect our kids from what we adults consider the ugly parts of life.

But remember, each time we try to protect another human being from anything other than physical harm, we are denying them the opportunity for growth. We cannot keep grief from them, nor should we try. But we can help them learn the skills they'll need to manage.

Opening Ourselves to Grief

We can do that by opening ourselves to different ways of thinking and feeling, by reading some of the many books now available on death and grief, and by thinking the situation through before it happens.

Accepting Grief as Part of Life

Whenever we start a new relationship we must accept that grief will be a part of it. The ending will come through a parting of life's paths, the death of us, or the death of the other party. But that doesn't stop us from marrying, having children, or adopting a cat.

Finding Purpose in Pain

When in the middle of grief, sometimes it is hard to recall why we put ourselves at risk for this pain. But then our spouse gives us the look that only they can give, our kids bring us a bouquet of dandelions, and our cat reaches over to gently swat at our passing leg. And suddenly it's back in focus...

Final Words on Grieving and Moving Forward

The journey through grief is a deeply personal one, filled with emotions that can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. It's not something to be rushed or avoided but embraced as a natural part of life's cycle.

Here are some closing thoughts and tips to support you or someone you know through this complex process:

  • Acceptance: Recognize that grief is a normal response to loss, and allow yourself to feel those emotions without judgment.
  • Openness: Share your feelings with trusted friends or family members. Sometimes, speaking about grief can provide relief and a sense of connection.
  • Seek Professional Help if Needed: Therapists specializing in grief can provide valuable support tailored to your individual needs.
  • Find Joy in Memories: Cherish the positive memories and celebrate the relationship that was. It's a tribute to the love and connection shared.
  • Move at Your Own Pace: There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Take the time you need to heal, and don’t let others dictate your process.

Remember, grief doesn't signify an end but rather a transition. By embracing it, we allow ourselves to grow and find new meaning and purpose in life.

Whether it's the loss of a pet, friend, family member, or other loved one, the path to healing is one of understanding, compassion, and self-care.


Related Reading:

When Is It Time? - Making The Difficult Decision

Written Contributions by Diane C. Nicholson

Diane C. Nicholson is an internationally accredited and published, professional photographer who specializes in horses, companion animals, and families. She is also a published writer who has had 4 stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, several articles in newspapers and magazines, and has a children's book currently being represented. Diane considers herself an activist for human and animal rights and works hard to that end. She lives in British Columbia's interior with her human family which has extended to many rescued critters including horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, a bird, and a rat.
Visit Diane's website at - Twin Heart Photo Productions

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5 comments on “When It’s Time To Say Goodbye – Losing A Pet

Elizabeth Farnworth November 24, 2020
Thank you for mentioning to not scold your cat when she scratches on my little cloth footstool. Her name is Zia & she is my therapy cat. She has a large scratching post with a place to lay at the top with kind of a scoop. However I need to recover part of the post as it’s just wood now. She sleeps on my bed at night at the foot on a quilted scarf & alternative down duvet. She checks on me each night. She is about 7 now & is totally a house cat. Never goes outside. I love your site!
    Furballsmom November 26, 2020
    Elizabeth, thank you for your comments! We would love to see you on the site, registering is free :)
orcalyne January 2, 2017
where the hell was my mind that night I ask to myself for the past 7 days. last monday at 01.00 in the evening I brought my cat - he suffered form kidney failure- to the hospital, and the vet injected death in my baby's vein. None of my friends understood my pain. I am killed everyday. He was supposed to say goodbye from his home not from the hospital that place that he hated so much. I know that I am not immortal and that someday I will dye too, but to wait until that day to join him, I am desperate... 
dennis47 January 6, 2016
Beautiful, powerful words there. Losing my Midnight just about killed me, especially since it occurred only 32 days after my mom died, They meant the world to me and even those losing them was terrible, I learned over the years to carry on with them always living in my heart. For every beginning of any kind of a relationship, we must realize that sooner or later, there will be an ending to it Death is something never to be trivialized, but accepted. It is not always a tragedy, as death my be the means of ending the pain of our furry friends. It is no shame to acknowledge a loved one's passing, but to turn inwardly without having someone to share that grief with can be devistating as well. Talking with someone who knows you inside and out and feels your joys, angers, bewilderments and pains is never a bad thing, and I would say it is a gret thing to do. We can't let this set us back forever, as it is not fair to you or your loved one. Live, and live well, friends.
angelrockcat September 24, 2013

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