Your dog is your loyal companion, a friend in good times and bad. A pet does not care about your income status, race, religion or sexual preference. A companion animal displays unconditional love. It always listens.
For people who love their companion animal as a family member, the loss can be traumatic. It can be devastating when it is time to say goodbye.
According to the DogWatch Newsletter (July 1999), pet loss often triggers unresolved feelings about other losses. Guilt also comes into play. Many times a person is faced with a sudden trauma or injury to a pet and has to make an immediate decision to have an animal euthanized. In other cases, a person with an ailing or aged dog has put off that same decision.
Whether you have time to prepare or not, euthanasia is never an easy choice. Even with a sick or old animal a person experiences denial and guilt.
You ask yourself many questions. Is there a treatment that will improve the quality of my pet's life? Do I have money for the treatment? Can my pet survive the treatment? Did I take the easy route and betray my pet? Will I just prolong suffering?
There will be changes in your life following the death of a pet. You may experience loneliness and depression. You come home to an empty house. You cry when you find your pet's favorite toys under a piece of furniture.
Professionals caution against lying to children about the death of a pet. Parents will have more difficulty when lying to children and avoiding the word died. And children's emotions should not be suppressed. Teenagers may have an even harder time coping because they pretend that they are more grownup.
Mourning a pet means dealing with a number of issues. Friends and family may not understand your pain. When a pet dies, you may find yourself afraid to talk about your feelings.
Some don't understand
People without pets or those who consider them mere possessions cannot understand the anguish you are going through. Some may say "It was only a cat, you can always get another one" or "Why are you crying, it is not the same as losing a child." That person does not understand the bond between a human and his companion animal. For many singles, elderly or those without family or children, pets are the only constant in their lives. The dog, cat or bird is their only family.
We all handle grief in different ways. If you are comfortable, express feelings with friends and family. Grief counseling may help you through the loss.
If not, where do you turn? You may call the Cornell University Pet Loss Support Hotline, manned by veterinary students, where they offer a sympathetic ear at (607) 253-3932.
The Internet can provide a variety of Web sites with information about grieving and euthanasia. See www.angelsforanimals.org for additional resources. Books may provide information to readers of all ages about pet loss and grieving in general.
In addition, there are grief counselors, support groups and mental health agencies that specialize in pet loss.
Although you cannot replace your pet, it may help ease your pain by placing a memorial in an animal magazine or by making a contribution to a local animal organization. Many people find comfort in making arrangements for their pet's burial or cremation services. In time, you may want to build a new friendship by adopting a companion animal that needs a loving home.
XMary Jo Nagy is a volunteer with Angels for Animals.