5 Steps to Take After Experiencing Pet Loss

Sometimes losing a pet is more painful than losing a human because in the case of the pet, you were not pretending to love it.”

– Amy Sedaris

After 11 years, I lost my German Shepherd last week.

As you may know, my story The Shoebox Effect starts off with the night I found my dog Dreyfus huddled in my bedroom closet dying. While I was devasted at losing him, I was also thankful for the joy he brought me when he was alive. This is true of all of our pets and I am so grateful to each one that has shared their lives with me over the years.

It never gets easier, losing a pet. With each one a part of you goes too. Pet loss related grief is a real thing and it effects each person differently. Even Scientific American confirms that pet loss needs to be taken seriously.

Our German Shephard’s passing was just as painful as the others. What you have to remember is that it’s important that you acknowledge your grief to begin working through the pain.

How to honor your pet

There is no right or wrong way to honor your beloved pet. You have to do what you think is right for you.

Last year, before we lost our German Shephard, we lost our Golden Retriever. We got both Cody and Cooley 6 weeks apart. They grew up together, slept together, and were the best of friends.  We have their ashes and the crematory is combining most of them and giving us the remaining ones to spread in our back yard where they played together. This gives me comfort knowing they are together playing and no longer suffering. 

But that’s just one scenario. It’s what works for me.

I’ve known friends who’ve buried their pet in a special place in their yard, giving the pet a proper service and saying kind words. Some create a memorial stone or plant a tree on their property to remember their pet by. Others donate to pet charities in their pet’s name or they may purchase a bracelet or frame their pet’s collar. There is no wrong way to honor your pet.

5 steps towards emotional healing after a pet loss

But even once you’ve said good-bye, the pain of losing a pet doesn’t automatically go away. Healing, whether over a human or a pet, takes time. It’s okay to grieve for someone or something you loved during the process.

  1. Lean on others for support. If you find that you’re struggling with the loss of your pet, consider joining a pet loss support group or therapy. You can find a list of resources near you here. If there is not a support group near you, you can also call the ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline and speak to someone at 877-GRIEF-10 (877-474-3310). But don’t forget to reach out to your own support group as well. Talk with family and friends who knew your pet. If they don’t understand, talk with someone who does. For additional support information, please check out petlosshelp.org.
  2. Get out of the house. After the loss of a pet your home feels empty and the silence can be deafening. Remove yourself from that environment as much as you can. If you cannot, replace the sounds of your pet with comforting sounds like music or by having a TV on in the background.
  3. Write it out. Pictures and videos of your pet are invaluable, especially once that pet is no longer around. However, it may help you work through the healing process to write down memories of your pet. What was your pet like as a puppy? What was his/her favorite toy? What do you want to say now that he/she is no longer here? Write your way through healing and in the process, you’ll save some of those special moments for a time when you need them.
  4. Get active. If you walked your dog multiple times a day don’t stop after they’ve passed away. Keep walking. The fresh air is good for you. If walking your pet’s usual route is too much in the beginning join a yoga class or another group activity that will keep you active and moving. The exercise will allow you to clear your mind for a while.
  5. Give yourself time. We all grieve in different ways. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time. Some people use that time to get a new pet while other wait years to introduce a new animal into their lives. Grieve your loss, honor your pet, and be gentle with yourself as you heal.

Don’t forget that you’re not the only one grieving

When you lose a pet, the whole family loses a member of one of its own. Keep in mind that children and your other pets will process this event differently. Sharing your favorite memories of your pet with your children and looking at old pictures together is one way to start the conversation.

While I am still working through my loss, I know that it will pass. It doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t hurt any less. But I want you to know that you will get through the pain too. I’ll be waiting for you on the other side.

Cooley’s Paw Print

The Shoebox Effect is more than a memoir…it’s a movement.”

– Marcie Keithley

What’s in YOUR shoebox?

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