Pet Loss & Grief Support
Deciding When It’s Time
Euthanasia is often the most emotional and painful decision you make for your animal. Because this decision is so difficult, it can be comforting to know that you are not alone.
What should I expect to feel?
Different people experience grief in different ways. Besides your sorrow and loss, which can be devastating in itself, you may experience guilt, anger, denial and/or depression. Depression and guilt are a natural part of the grief process, but if unchecked, can leave you powerless to cope with your feelings. Know that there is support, our hospital offers grief support sessions to help you cope with your loss, CLICK HERE for our upcoming sessions.
5 Action Steps for Dealing with Grief
“Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how.” James Russel Lowell
Action Step One: Daily Gratuity List
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of out past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
A daily gratuity list has the power; however, briefly, to steer us away from our cavern of pain by helping us focus, even for a second, on our ability to feel content, to feel pleasure, to feel at peace and to experience joy.
One of the best ways to record and commit to a daily gratuity list is with an actual journal, one dedicated just for these daily lists. I strongly recommend pen to paper: literally writing. Place your journal by your bedside and record your list immediately upon waking. Describe in minute detail what you are grateful for. Latch on to even the smallest of things that bring you joy.
Example: Daily Gratuity List of 3 things I am grateful for
- my mattress: the softness and cushioning of my mattress makes me feel like I am enveloped in a warm cocoon
- vitamin D capsules: without this supplement I would suffer exponentially more from my seasonal affective disorder
- my pull up bar I installed in my house: without this I could not easily continue my commitment to 1 daily pull up
“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery, it merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.” Richelle E. Goodrich
“ It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment.” Naomi Williams
Action Step Two: Meditation
“Feeling come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh
“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi
Meditation can help with grief in many ways. Practicing daily meditation can reduce pain, anxiety and stress. My own practice of meditation has taught me how to become aware of my thoughts and feelings and to simply “let them be”. I have also learned how not to attach or invest in the myriad of thoughts and emotions that I become aware of while practicing mindfulness. I allow my thoughts and grief to exist, but I practice ‘not dwelling’ on these thoughts and re-directing my attention to the moment…to my breath.
Getting started with meditation can feel daunting. It may feel like this whole huge world that we know nothing about and that we will have to practice for years to gain any benefit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply practicing for 3 minutes every day can bring huge benefits. I recommend guided meditation to begin with. One of the best apps available for smart phones is called Headspace.
“I'm simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I'm saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.
It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.
It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.
And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.
That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.” Osho
Action Step Three: Volunteer
“To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” Abraham Lincoln
“We are like one winged angels. It is only when we help each other that we can fly.” Luciano de Crescenzo
Volunteering to help others in need is a great way for us to start to tolerate the depth of our grief. We can focus on stepping away from our pain by helping to strengthen our community and bring joy and relief to others in need.
A great resource for finding and exploring your local volunteering opportunities is the Points of Light Foundation’s Volunteer Center National Network (www.pointsoflight.org).
“There is no better exercise for your heart that reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” Bernarn Meltzer
Action Step Four: Get Out In Nature
“Nature cures – not the physician.” Hippocrates
“One has to be alone, under the sky, Before everything falls into place and one finds his or her own place in the midst of it all. We have to have the humility to realize ourselves as part of nature.” Thomas Merton
A recent study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that getting out in nature could lower the risk of depression. Other studies by the same author (Gregory Bratman) have found that nature experience can decrease anxiety and rumination.
Along this same theme, exposing ourselves to nature can increase our mindfulness and presence in the moment….this mindfulness and awareness of the moment can offer us a break from our grief: even if just for a minute. A walk in nature is a concrete way of reaching out our hands and literally touching the world around us. Re-connecting to living things outside our houses: outside our cocoons of grief.
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being, And walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Soren Kierkegaard
Action Step Five: Talk To Someone
“There is no grief like the grief that doesn’t speak.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief.” William Blake
Whether we talk to our family, our friends, a therapist or a licensed grief counselor verbalizing and sharing our pain is a way of beginning to release this pain. Verbalizing our pain allows other people to soothe us, offer support and share their ideas on what may have helped them in the past.
“Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger links than common joys.” Alphonse de Lamartine
ASPCA Grief Counseling HotLine: 877-GRIEF-10 or (877-474-3310).
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s free pet-loss hotline: (508) 839-7966
University of Pennsylvania, Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital: (215)-898-4556
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine: (540)-231-8038
Chicago Veterinary Medical Association
Pet Loss Support Hotline: 630-325-1600
Colorado State University, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Argus Institute Client Support Service
Argus Clinic Line: 970-297-1242
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine New York
Pet Loss Support Hotline: 607-253-3932
Iams Pet Loss Support or call 888-332-7738 (Open 9am to 6pm, Eastern Time, Mondays through Fridays)
Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine
Pet Loss Support Hotline: 517-432-2696
From NJ: 856-234-4688 - Outside of NJ: 800-404-PETS (7387)
SPCA (The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) of Texas, Pet Grief Counseling Support Line (Serves North Texas) 214-461-5131
Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (Massachusetts) 508-839-7966
(Companion Animal Related Emotions) Pet Loss Helpline Illinois: 217-244-CARE (2273)
University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary Social Work Helpline: 865-755-8839
Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine
Pet Loss Hotline: 866-266-8635 - Local: 509-335-5704
National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 800-273-8255
In Memory Of A Dear Friend...
We know we love our pets. What we often don’t realize is how deeply their loss can affect us, and that grief for a pet can feel as painful as grief for the loss of a human family member. However, when a human family member dies, there are many different ways to honor their memory through funeral services, cemetary plots and monuments, obituaries published in newspapers, charitable events in memory of special people who fought certain diseases, and many culturally accepted ways of memorializing the memory of a human loved one. When your pet dies, it can be very difficult to find meaningful ways of creating a memorial to a very important life.
One special memorial can be a clay pawprint made by your veterinary hospital when your pet passes away. This clay pawprint is usually created with the pet’s name lovingly imprinted and can be something to treasure forever. Many people may choose to receive their pet’s ashes in an urn to keep. Some may keep the pet’s leash or collar, or a small piece of the pet’s hair. Our animal hospital has a pet nametag memorial where tags with pets names are displayed in an outdoor garden. Some people may make a donation to their favorite animal welfare organization in memory of a beloved pet.
Recently, I lost a very special dog who chose to memorialize herself in a very unusual way. Four years ago, after sharing my life with Norwegian elkhounds for twenty six years, my last elkhound lost the battle to kidney disease. I began searching for a Norwegian elkhound in need of rescue, but found instead a beautiful husky with four kinds of cancer who had been returned to the shelter twice, no one wanted her and she needed a home. Although I had no experience with the husky breed, as I had only had elkhounds before, I brought her home and found in her the best friend I ever had. She was such a beautiful, loving dog who brought so much joy into my life. When she lost the battle to cancer I was devastated at how empty our home seemed without her. I returned to the shelter in the hopes of finding another husky, but there was no elkhound or husky available on that particular day. There was, however a very sweet mixed breed dog, not exactly sure what breed, a male, and I had only ever had female dogs before. I took him for a walk outside the shelter, and he looked back at me over his shoulder, the way my husky always did. In that instant, I understood the perfect way to honor my beloved husky angel was to give this unusual looking gentleman the same chance I gave her four years ago. She was different, she was not the breed I was looking for, but she needed me at that time. So now, I have adopted an interesting looking, unknown breed boy dog who needed me at just the time I needed him. He is my living memorial to a dog who taught me so much, how to open my mind to new opportunities, and I am so grateful to have him in my life!
If you have recently lost a pet, and have room in your heart and your home, take a visit to your local shelter or AWA and consider giving someone different a chance. You may be surprised at the joy a new friend can bring to even a deeply grieving heart.
Author: Dr. Rebecca Merrifield