By NICK BARNETT
Most of us have lost at least one pet that we really loved. How do we handle it? And what about when it’s not us but a friend who’s the bereaved one – what do you do then?
A friend of mine, Kathy, recently lost her Abyssinian kitten. I knew Kathy was fond of her cat and I sent my condolences in the true 2010 way – by Facebook. Which is where I’d been following the kitten’s progress and where I learned of his death. Kathy’s an old newspaper colleague of mine, and a super writer. So I asked her if she felt like writing something for Four Legs Good about Cairo, her kitten. She said yes, and wrote a lovely and moving entry for the blog. It must have been a hard thing to write, but Kathy said it was cathartic. I felt the same way about the blog post I wrote last year about my old cat Pierre. He had died a couple of years earlier, but I knew when I started this blog that, one day, I’d write about him.
So I psyched myself up for it, looked at some photos of Pierre and cast my mind back to the 16 years Pierre was with me. I wrote about him affectionately but didn’t rend my garments or overdo it (I hope). Still, it was draining to write, and I felt flattened for the rest of the day. But as for Kathy, it had been cathartic for me. I’d gone through some of the old feeling of loss and taken the chance to make a tribute to my long-term pet. I also blogged about the life and death of our old rabbit, Hef, a former classroom pet that we adopted and gave a safe home to in his elderly years.
I suppose that you make the tribute that suits you: a blogger will blog about it, a painter might paint it, a gardener might plant a tree or devote a patch of garden to the late lamented pet, a spiritual person might hold a ceremony… And what else? Have you ever found some way of focusing your grief for a pet, or made a particular tribute to it? We’re not into shrines in our house, but we do have a sad little gathering of mementos: four carved wooden coffins holding the ashes of pets that we’ve lost over the years. I keep them, in a way, as memorial dust traps. They get dusty, and when I dust the coffins I have a moment to remember the pets they represent. So they’re never forgotten for long. Unless I get really lazy with the dusting.
And there’s another angle to the experience of having a pet die. What about when it’s someone else, who you care about, who’s mourning? A blog reader, Megan, sent me an email the other day. She told how a friend of hers had suddenly lost her beloved dog – hit by a car: “I leapt to my feet, jumped in the car and went to visit. It was horrible and I couldn’t do a thing about it. “I’m basically writing this to find out what is the etiquette for when a friend’s pet passes on? “I talked to a few people … [who] said she will get over it, admittedly the people either don’t have pets, or don’t really like the ones they have: they make messes on the grass, dig up the garden, leave hair around the house, poop/throw up on the carpet – something as an absolute animal lover I can’t fathom. You know that when you take them on and love them regardless. “Any ideas for a thoughtful gift?”
I’m too slow getting round to blogging this to be of much help to Megan, who’s probably sorted things out for herself by now. But she raises a couple of good questions. What to do when a friend’s pet dies? Is it crazy to send a card, or a gift, or rush to the person’s side? I’m sure some people would say so. “It’s only an animal,” would be the sentiment. To me, that’s a clueless sentiment. It shows the same kind of friendship-failure as dopey reassurances along the lines of “dry your eyes mate, plenty more fish in the sea”. A question to pet owners: if your pet died, what would your friends and family do? What would you like them to do?
To me the loss of a pet is no different to the loss of a close friend or family member – because that is just what my dogs are to me! I know I would be beside myself with grief. I guess the only thing people really can do is be there for them – be a shoulder to cry on, someone to reminisce the good times with.
I have a pet bunny, which many people I know, don’t really understand. To them, rabbits are more like rodents, not family pets. However, as there is only my partner and I in the house, its so nice to have another being running around, and to interact with. I will be understandably upset she passes, and I would like it very much if my family and friends sent some sort of condolence, even a wee text would be really nice, just to show that they are thinking of me. I would certainly do the same for them 🙂 I feel that they are part of the family, no matter what kind of animal you have, so for any of them to pass would be really sad.
I am having to prepare myself for the ultimate demise of my 13 year old dog and my family, and many of my friends, know how dreadful the loss will be for me. I can only assume (and hope!) that they will treat the death as an awful time for me as they know how terribly close we are. If friends and family know you and your animal, and the relationship you have, they will treat the death with the respect it deserves.
After countless vet visits and thousands of dollars spent, my partner and I have made the heartbreaking decision to put our little cat down today. She was given to me only three years ago as a tiny little kitten no bigger than the palm of my hand and has been my constant companion ever since… Not to mention a hot-water bottle and a source of entertainment with her antics. As with every person who I have ever lost, I will plant a tree for her. I will miss her terribly. RIP Nina Ballerina
I agree with LaDi I have recently moved away from NZ and the thing I miss the most is my family pets. Now I had my first cat from 2 till 19 so she was pretty special to me. She used to like to add her touch to my painting’s it was common for me to leave the dinning room for 5 minutes and return to find paw prints along the table top. In her memory I now have two messy marks on my shoulder. Losing her was hard as all my best childhood memories where with her…
As someone who has lost two children, plus several pets, I can assure you that the pain is the same. This may horrify some people, but the hurt is just as bad for the pets as the family member – but just possibly not quite as long lasting.
Sam – My thoughts are with you this afternoon – its a horrible decision to make but sometimes for the best no matter how hard it is for you.
Knowing first hand how hard a pet death can hit you, it would be great to know someone would at least try and offer condolences and sympathy if not empathy. Pets are part of your life and give loads of unconditional love and do deserve to be mourned as a big loss. They leave a hole in your day. They’re not there for play, for cuddles and kisses. You’re the one who misses their funny and quirky ways. Doesn’t matter what anyone else says… You love them
We had two pet mice who were simply delightful, they were curious and friendly and we loved them to bits. They got quite old for mice and when wee Spott passed away, his wee buddy Fluff mourned just as we mourned. I thought I would be okay until I got to work the next day, someone asked the usual ‘how are you today?’ and I burst into tears and blubbered for the rest of the morning. The worst part was admitting to my usually skeptical colleagues we had to put the other mouse down as he was badly grieving and was old. To their credit everyone was thoughtful and caring and was just there for me to share silly stories and to pass me tissues. Bless ’em. Just be there.
Sam – so sorry. It is such a hard thing to go through and you will miss her for a long time. When we lost our dog, I spent the next several weeks gradually writing the story of his life, and compiling a photo album of him. As you would expect, the hardest bit to write about was the end of his life. The anecdotes bought back lots of memories and I read it, and go through the album, now and then, and it reminds us of things we might otherwise have forgotten. It felt like the right thing to do and I am so glad I did it.
I highly recommend it. We also planted a tree for him. We had lots of lovely emails and things after we lost him. Again, I still have and look at those, along with some wonderful (but sad) articles my Mum sent me which had helped her when she lost her dog. My work mates put together flowers and a card and two of them (good friends) bought them around that day, when we had just lost him. I was so impressed and comforted that they realized how much a part of the family he was and how important he was to us. It is indeed a very awkward moment, as is any bereavement, and for them to come around to let us know they were thinking of us, and to look after us so well, was just so special. The things that other people do are so helpful. Talking about him, just finding out how we were feeling, taking us out drinking later on in the week. We still miss him, but now we think about and talk about the good things he was to us – he’s still part of the family years later.