What to Say When Someone’s Pet Dies

by Becky Blanton on July 18, 2012 · 0 comments

I had to put my Rottweiler of almost 13 years down May 20. She had a bad reaction to some dog food (possibly one of the many salmonella tainted foods coming out of North Carolina the past few months), developed pancreatitis, had a stroke and seizure and had to be euthanized.

It about killed me too. I had no idea how much it would hurt to lose a dog. I’m still depressed and grieving as I write this, even though a month after the loss I’ve just adopted two tiny kittens. I made the decision to do so not because they would replace her in my heart, but because, as one friend said, “They can’t replace your dog or eliminate your tears, but they can be there to help lick them away.” That was what changed my mind. She understood. You don’t’ gloss over a loss. You acknowledge it, embrace it and move into it — feeling the pain, yet remembering there is hope beyond it.

How many of us have lost pets, spouses, children, jobs, friends and whatever else and been leveled or so devastated that we didn’t want to go on? I sure didn’t. I toyed with calling a suicide hotline I felt that bad. I ended up doing the healthy thing — calling friends, crying and turning to food to get through the pain. But it still hurt. I finally just gave in to it and sobbed myself to sleep, and cried throughout the day. People who have lost pets understand, those who haven’t, don’t. Either way — it’s been a roller coaster ride. What struck me most was what people said that did and didn’t help me. I wanted to share that here:

What DID NOT help:

• You should have been more careful about the food you gave her.
• She lived longer than she should have, so be grateful for that.
• She was old, what did you expect?
• I don’t understand why you’re so upset. She was just a dog.
• Pets die. You just have to get over it.

What DID help:

• I’m so sorry for your loss. Our pets are our children and it’s devastating to lose them.
• Can I come over and sit with you, or take you to lunch and talk about it?
• What’s your favorite memory of her?
• Can you tell me about how you found each other?
• I’d love to see some photos of her. Would you mind sharing them?
• I’m here anytime you want to call and talk, or cry, or share photos or just reminisce about her.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think most people want to avoid talking about their loss. I didn’t. I did want to avoid talking about “what to do,” or how I should move on. I wanted to grieve and remember her. I didn’t want to be talked to, counseled or reassured unless I asked for that. I just wanted a good listener. Thankfully, I had that among so many friends.

This week I had several of those same comforting friends lose their own animals, everything from a guinea pig to a horse, several dogs and a cat. They were all as devastated as I was. It hurts to lose an animal companion, no matter how big or how small. Please take the loss of someone’s pet or animal companion seriously. It is no less painful than that of a human companion, friend or family member.

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