The end of life for any pet can be difficult. These furry companions become part of our lives and families sometimes in deeper ways than people. But with that love comes the pain of knowing that our time with them is brief.
There are many ways to lose a pet:
- Suddenly to external causes such as a car or preditor (For an overview of sudden loss see: Grief Part 1 – Sudden Loss)
- Expectedly to natural causes like sickness or old age (For an overview of expected loss see: Grief part 2 – Expected Loss)
- To end of life decisions (As covered below)
Originally this was not a blog I had intended to write. But with the start of 2019 came one of the most difficult decisions I would have to make.
Garfield was my 18-year-old orange tabby cat. I have had hid since the day he was born. He was my rock and my comfort through the most difficult part of my life, his fur catching many of my tears and his purs bringing me peace. Over the last year, Garfield had begun to fade. He began experiencing health issues and finally stopped responding to treatments, he was just simply getting old. During the holidays I started to hope he would go naturally. He had stopped cleaning himself and was losing weight rapidly. eventually, he found it difficult to use the cat box or even jump into his favorite spot. As his breathing became labored I knew there was no waiting, he was suffering. It was time to put him down.
I will avoid the details of the event as I will admit it was fairly traumatizing to experience. But I will say I do not regret staying by his side. On that day his fur would catch my last tears as the only words I could manage were “Thank you’ and “I’m sorry”. A week later I would receive his asses in a beautiful wood box and bring him home for the last time.
I was fortunate to have many veterinarians and counselor friends who have helped me cope with the process. Here is what I learned.
Decision: Making the decision to put down a pet is incredibly painful. You wonder if you are doing the right thing? Do they know? Will they hate you for it? There is no easy way to deal with this and is something each owner will have to struggle with. But I do offer some words of comfort. I will not take credit or pretend these words are my own. Instead, these are the words of a friend, counselor and former vet tech send to me in my personal time of need:
“I will tell you this, something I have told many pet owners as well as my own hubby with our pups: You know.
You have spent 18 years bonding with your baby. You know what the difference between a hungry and an attention meow is, you know every crazy yoga position your cat was capable of twisting into, you know every look, every purr, every head nuzzle. You know your baby. Love can give us such a powerful insight into the ones we love. And I can guarantee you knew when it was the right time. Animals may not be able to speak words but the bond you had with your kitty would have been a conduit for understanding what your kitty needed. You were brave and strong when your cat needed it the most. You gave your baby the last greatest and hardest gift you could give. Please don’t doubt yourself. You knew.” – Alyssa Herr
Questions: To decide to end a life and to go through that process is confusing. It is not likely many will have experience with it before having to make that decision.
If I can offer any advice it is to ask questions and not be rushed or pushed off. Seek information from those who have experience. Talk to your vet. It may not alleviate the guilt or pain but it may help you prepare for the process.
Regret: There will come a moment during or after that the words “what am I doing” or “what have I done” cross your mind. As mentioned before the process for me was rather traumatizing. It felt cold, rushed, routine and in the end, I was left with a feeling of regret not only for what I had done but for how I allowed it to be done.
In hindsight do I feel I was wrong? No. Pondering the words of my friend, I did know it was time and that it was right. But I do regret the way I allowed it. So remember this DON’T BE RUSHED OR PUSHED! If you need an extra minute, take it. If you have a preferred vet, go there. If you don’t like the way the situation is handled, say something. This is your time with your pet to say goodbye. It will be painful but it should still be respected.
Support: The support given for pet loss is not the same as a human loss. There is no bereavement leave, funeral or condolences to the family. People expect you to move on quicker and be more okay throughout. But those who have lost a pet know the pain can be equal to the loss of a person and even sometimes more so.
My advice? allow yourself to grieve. People may not understand but it is not for them to understand. You deserve time to heal. Furthermore, take this time to understand what the pain of pet loss is and use that knowledge to be a support and encourage others to be a support in the future.
Grief and Aftercare
There are many ways to honor your pet after a loss and to cope with the grief. Some helpful tips:
- Self-care: Take the time you need to process your grief and remember to continue to take care of your personal and emotional needs. (See: The Foundation of Self Care)
- Seek help: There is help available for those struggling with grief. If in need please see a counselor or a coach about processing grief or seek support from trusted family and friends.
- Remembering your pet:
- Ashes may be kept in urns/boxes, scattered in favorite location or used to make memorial pieces.
- Photos are a good way to remember a pet, whether placed with the memorial item or on their own.
- A memorial piece such as plaque or stone may be made if remains are buried or not kept.
- Creative memorials using pets collar or a beloved toy (Pinterest and Etsy may be good resources for ideas of lasting memorials.)
- Understand the process of grief and how to cope with grief