Coping With The Loss Of A Pet

Here at Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, we understand the depths of grief felt after losing the dog or cat in your life. Derek Stewart-Brown, PR Lead at Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, reflects on his recent bereavement and the steps he took to cope with his loss.

THE worst part of losing my little furry companion of 10 years was that I wasn’t there at the end.

That still hurts and makes me cry, even three months later. But it couldn’t be helped and I certainly don’t care that I still cry – because grief has no time limits. It makes me smile when a well-meaning friend says ‘move on’ or ‘find another dog’ because its only when you lose a pet, you realise that these well-meant sentiments mean nothing.

You will decide when to move on. And only you can decide when you want another dog. In the meantime, you celebrate the memories and cherish the happy times.

Little Hari was a rescue dog, and he didn’t initially like men! With time, training and patience on both sides, we came to an understanding and were soon inseparable.

Maintaining Routines

For the first few days after his passing, I still went out on our walks, visited the usual places, filled my pockets with treats and we still talked – was that totally mad? According to the experts I’ve since spoken too, not at all. Because in the immediate aftermath of such a loss, it can be helpful to maintain these little routines, providing a little link that can ease that sudden heartbreak caused by loss.

Months later, we still walk, and we still talk – and it still helps.

Because when we lose a dog, a huge chunk of the routine in our own daily life goes too. Life has become abnormal and maintaining some of these little routines does in some small way reduce the size of that massive hole that has just opened up.

Taking Time To Grieve

It can be tempting to look at that empty dog bed, crumpled blankets and the lead hanging beside the door, and move to get rid of them ASAP. After all, another dog could get the benefit.

Think again! Of course I have my memories, and a mobile phone that has more photos of Hari than the rest of the family, but it isn’t enough for me. The smelly blanket stays with the favourite toy and both collar and lead. Some might dare to call it hoarding, but those in the know will understand it’s the basis of my ‘Memory Box’ which I turn to, at any time throughout the grieving process.

Bereavement experts encourage the keepsake idea because it maintains the bond, in much the same way that we continue some of our little routines.

Celebrating A Pet’s Life

All our past pets are buried at the bottom of the garden. Past dogs, cat and even the pet rabbits. That’s not an option available to everyone. These days, professional providers can organise funeral services, offering burials and cremation.

While some of these options can be expensive – marking the passing of a beloved pet by scattering ashes in a favourite spot or planting a tree are relatively inexpensive . Or, if you’re looking for a way to commemorate your pet while supporting the Home, our reflection garden and memory trees are a lovely option.

The Elephant In The Room

And now we come to what I always describe as the ‘elephant in the room’. It’s the immediate response, which mostly comes from those who have never been there and as well-meaning as it is undoubtedly intended – I suggest you ignore it!

It’s when people say ‘Oh, you need to get another dog right away.’

We get it, but speaking to bereaved owners and you get a slightly different vibe. It takes time and don’t do it until you are absolutely sure it’s the right time.

Every dog is different. And the chances are you’ve spent a long, long time forming a bond with a bereaved pet. That special bond will never be entirely duplicated. Apart from taking the time you need to grieve, there are practical considerations.

Do you have the time to create a new relationship? Things may have changed since you began that journey with your previous pet. The past few years have been turbulent for most of us. Do your working hours still allow you the real time needed to keep a pet happy? Are you financially still able to cope with increased food and increased vet bills?

We know we want a happy and long life for our pets. Are we too old for a puppy that we would hope would still be around more than a decade from now?

Of course, I have a huge bias here. I want you to think about a rescue dog!

Most have the basic training required. And are mature enough to form new bonds.

Perhaps the most important aspects to consider are that you are providing a warm and loving home for an animal, who through no fault of its own, has fallen on hard times. And at the same time, satisfying your own need for a companion.

But it can’t be stressed enough how important it is to wait until you are entirely happy that the time is right. The loss of a pet is truly heart-breaking – and grief has no time limits.

Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home partners with Dawn Murray pet bereavement services, providing free and confidential counselling to those struggling with the loss of a pet.

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