Changes to the Way We View Pet Loss and Grief

Loss of life is never easy to deal with.  Unfortunately, I have had to deal with more than I would care to in both animal rescue and veterinary medicine.

Times have changed, and most people no longer consider their dogs and cats pets.  Rather, they are family members or “babies”.  We care for our “furry children” just like we would a human child.   But, when the end of life approaches, what options are available to remember our friends?  How do we say good-bye?

The loss of a pet can be a heart-wrenching and emotional experience.  When your furry loved one can no longer enjoy a quality life, euthanasia (which means “easy death”) can really be a blessing for your pet.  But ending the life of your best friend is difficult.

I see people struggle with knowing when the time is right.  Your veterinarian can help you recognize when your pet is suffering and discuss options and whether or not your pet can still enjoy a quality life.   Some pet owners report that “unspoken signs” will pass between them and their pets, signaling that it’s ok to let go.  We recently had an owner who wanted to spend a last Christmas season with her dog before saying goodbye.  (Her dog ended up passing on it’s own without medical assistance just after Christmas.)

It doesn’t matter if the death comes abruptly through trauma or gently at the veterinarian’s office – invariably, the result is the same:  you are suddenly left with an empty feeling.  Many have only treasured memories and a few photographs of their beloved pet.

Mention planning a funeral for your pet and many people might snicker at you.   But, memorial services and pet burials are becoming increasingly more common across North America.   According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, more than 600 pet cemeteries and crematories now offer funeral services for pets.  Coleen Ellis, owner of Pet Angel Memorial Center in Carmel, Indiana has seen her business expand as more pet owners want to find a way to memorialize their pet.   Ellis says “Owners often come into our chapel and are amazed at all the different ideas that are offered for helping them to celebrate the life of their pet.”

You can now purchase decorative urns, garden stones engraved with your pets name and likeness, keepsakes, paw prints, and a number of other items to help you remember your lost loved one.

Owners often say good-bye to their pet in a clinical setting and most don’t have the opportunity to come together, as they would if a human family member died.   There is no doubt that our pets touch our lives deeply through their unconditional love.   For many, the loss of that love is also the loss of an era of time.   As pets live longer, many owners are faced with the death of a companion who has seen them through college, a new career, and maybe even a marriage or two.  That loss can be overwhelming for some.

Pet loss support hot lines have been set up at many of the veterinary schools and even some of the larger veterinary hospitals.   Many veterinarians and their staff take special classes in grief counseling to help their clients deal with the loss of their pet.   While admitting to that level of sorrow is difficult for some people, as they may fear the ridicule and scorn of friends and family.  But, according to, people should not feel ashamed or embarrassed by these feelings.   Grief counseling is often just what the doctor ordered for pet owners suffering a loss.

Just as our pets now receive “human-quality” medical care, many dogs, cats, and other pets are being remembered in ways similar to human funerals.   Remember that grief is a normal occurrence.   If you are having difficulty after the death of a pet, seek professional assistance.   Allow yourself the time to grieve and to celebrate the precious life that you have lost.

Cheree is the founder of Mill Creek Animal Rescue. Download a copy of the free report: Five Dog Training Myths. Visit The New Pet Zone for the latest news and product reviews for a healthier happier pet!