We all know losing a pet is difficult and heartbreaking. But more than that- it’s lonely. Given the short lifespans of dogs and cats, death is an inevitable part of loving a pet. There are many ways to support your friend through pet loss.
Recognize the loss
One of the things that separates pet loss from the loss of a human loved one is that some people just don’t understand how hard it is to lose a pet. It would be normal, after losing a close family member, to take some time off work or school. Friends and neighbors might step in to offer food, flowers, donations to charity, or help with everyday tasks. There are a lot of ways losing a pet and losing a human are different, but the grief of pet loss can be enormous and the fact that it’s not often acknowledged just makes it harder.
A simple text or phone call after a friend loses a pet can go a long way. It lets them know that you understand they’re going through something real and serious and that you know how much their pet matters to them. Say their name and ask to see photos. Give them the chance to talk about the animal who was such a big part of their life.
Small, sincere, loving gestures can go a long way in helping your friend feel less alone after losing a pet.
Acknowledge the pet’s impact
As a general rule, human beings have their own communities, friends, families, and loved ones. When a person dies, there may be one primary next of kin, but there are other people who will feel their own grief at that person’s loss. They will have known and loved the person independently and have their own experiences with them. It’s different with a pet. If I were to lose my cat tomorrow, not a single other person on Earth would miss her. I would have a huge hole in my life and my heart and I would be alone in that. She doesn’t have her own communities of people who know and love her.
Let your friend know that you know and remember their pet as an individual. If you’ve never met them, think of things they might have told you about them. Tell stories or make (mostly positive) observations. Do you remember when they got their pet? Did they work hard and make a lot of progress on something in particular, such as training or socialization?
Acknowledging things that made their pet and their relationship with their pet special can help someone feel less alone and more understood.
Give them time
When it comes to getting a new pet, respect your friend’s space and decisions. Don’t even bring up the idea of getting a new pet, especially not right away. Everyone in every situation will grieve in their own way and in their own time and they shouldn’t have to explain or justify it to anyone.
In this situation, keep in mind that what they do is their decision and, unless they ask for it, your opinion on the matter is not necessary and probably not helpful. Some people can’t bear to live without a pet and will want to start the search right away. Some can’t imagine doing that and will want to take some time before even considering another animal companion. Some will decide they don’t want another pet at all. And that is entirely their choice and not your business.
Even when it comes to contact with other animals, some people will find comfort and joy in visiting with animals, such as at a cat café or adoption event, and some will find it painful and difficult. If you offer this kind of thing to your friend and they decline, don’t push it.
Most importantly, do not surprise somebody by giving them a new pet as a “replacement.” Pets as surprise gifts are a bad idea in general, but pushing a pet on someone who is grieving a loss and may not be ready for another animal is a recipe for disaster.
When they’re ready for another pet, you can help them look and share in their excitement, but don’t push it, especially shortly after a loss. Grief is complicated and personal. Give them whatever time they need.
Consider a memorial gift
There are a lot of options for physical ways of acknowledging a pet’s life and importance. Custom pet portraits are popular and can be done in a variety of art styles. Find something you like on Etsy or Fiverr or support a local St. Louis area artist, such as Patrick Walgamott. Commissioning artwork can be pricey, but having something handmade like that is almost like getting to see them again for a second.
It doesn’t have to break the bank. Paint the pet’s name on a river rock. Bead it onto a bracelet. Write it on a Christmas ornament. A veterinarian I used to know would put pets’ ashes into special beads that could be used on jewelry or keychains. There are a lot of options for pet memorials, both personalized and more generic.
If material memorials aren’t really your friend’s style or you want to do something a little extra, consider donating in their pet’s name to an animal-related charity. This might be the shelter or rescue where the dog was adopted, a charity that trains support dogs or therapy dogs, or anywhere else that’s close to your friend’s heart.
Of course any kind of gift should be tailored to the recipient as much as possible, but don’t agonize too much about style. In this instance, it’s very much the thought that counts.
The loss of a pet is devastating and having the support of your friends and family in such a difficult time can make all the difference. By implementing the many ways you can support your friends through pet loss, your friends will know they can count on you and your aid through the grief process.
When you can’t be there every minute, you need someone you can trust to understand that your pets are your family. From the beginning to the end and beyond, we’re here to support you. Let us be a part of your pet’s community by signing up for dog-walking or pet-sitting services with 4-Legged Kids.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.