Many pet owners go through a profound grief when a pet dies, which many non-pet owners fail to fully grasp. And, like the bereavement we face when a member of the family dies, losing a pet can result in a similar range of emotions in the pet owner and their family.
People cope with their grief in different ways, but here are some suggestions of how to deal with bereavement…
Some owners bury their pet in their back garden, and have a ceremony and perhaps a memorial stone as a constant reminder of their family pet. For much-loved pets, particularly dogs and cats, this can give families a focal point and a place to share memories.
Some families visit a pet crematorium or pet cemetery to say their goodbyes, with a funeral director and perhaps a hearse involved in the process. Others have their pets preserved by a taxidermist, which costs upwards of £2,000.
Whichever option you choose, the process of saying goodbye is important for both adults and children, because it provides the means of dealing with grief and moving on.
The charity Animal Samaritans has a memorial page where pet owners have penned poems to their lost ones, and this can be a helpful way to deal with difficult emotions. Give yourself time to grieve and remember your pet in whichever way helps, which may be writing poems or keeping a diary, talking, or looking at photos.
To help people with the grieving process, there are counselling support organisations such as the pet charity The Blue Cross, which runs the Pet Bereavement Support Service (0800 096 6606). It provides advice and counselling through ‘Telephone Befrienders’ who are trained to deal with pet bereavement issues. Animal Samaritans also has a Pet Bereavement Service on 020 8303 1859.
As we mentioned, pet owners have a strong emotional and social relationship with a pet, and the death of an animal can elicit strong feelings that often parallel the grief felt after the loss of a human companion. Research has found that up to three quarters of owners experience difficulties or disruptions in their lives after pets die. The grieving process starts with shock and denial, and moves on to emotional pain and eventual acceptance.
Supporting the kids
Talking to your children about the loss of a family pet can also be immensely helpful, for both adults and children. Children need to feel heard and have the opportunity to discuss their feelings, but also want reassurance. Sharing memories of your pet with them can help them move through the grieving process. It is also healthy to talk about death in a wider context. Then, you should look to the future, perhaps marking the pet’s passing with a celebration, and a distraction – maybe a fun day out with the family.
When the time is right, it may be worth talking about and considering buying a new pet, whether that means getting the same breed of dog or cat, or perhaps a different type of pet altogether. It’s not necessarily a good idea to rush into replacing your family pet, because grief needs time to work itself through.
However, if you can focus your child’s attention on hope and the future, it will help them to deal with their bereavement and move on.
Financial costs of losing a pet
Not only can the loss of a much-loved pet be emotionally traumatic, it can also be quite costly financially. If your dog or cat contracts a serious illness or disease, or if they die more suddenly in an accident, it’s likely that the vets bills for treatment and putting the animal to sleep will be quite high.
If you have taken out a pet insurance policy prior to the illness being diagnosed, or the accident occurring, then you could claim back some, or all of this cost. Churchill pet insurance policyholders are also entitled to claim back the purchase price of their pet if it dies from accident or illness, up to a value of £500.