I’ve written before about my own experiences with losing a beloved pet – there was my beautiful dog Shandy who passed in January this year, then my elderly cat Munch this summer. I’ve also lost people in my life – my parents having the biggest impact on my life. And some people out there would think I was mad to say that losing a furry family member hurts just as much as losing a blood relative, even one as close as a parent.
Recently, two friends of mine have suffered the sudden loss of their pets. Ellie – we met online around seven years ago and I consider her a close friend – lost her kitten in a tragic accident and it has hit her really hard. Then there’s Rosie, a new friend who had to have her dog put to sleep when a vet visit revealed he was dying of cancer and the kindest thing for him was to let him go peacefully.
I can relate to both losses. When you take on a parental role of a pet, I think it can be extraordinarily painful when they pass away. After my mom died, Shandy and Lady became my responsibility. They went from being friends I could hang out with, to being children who couldn’t take care of themselves so I had to step in.
Those dogs saved my life. Even if I wanted to stay in bed and fade away, I couldn’t. I had to make sure they were fed, let out, cuddled and kept warm. My cats, Munch and Pip, were far more independent than Shandy and Lady, but when winter rolled in – back when I was living in my old house with its busted boiler – all five of us ended up living in my bedroom, camped around a shitty electric heater to keep warm. I kept them under the duvet with me.
Whenever I’ve been ill with depressive episodes, post-psychosis or meds-related trauma, my dogs would repay the favour and in their own way, they would look after me. Even when I felt like the world was against me, Shandy and Lady gave me nothing but unconditional love. No matter what, they loved me and I loved them.
That feeling is real. So why should the grief be anything less? I’ve heard it all before, “They’re just dogs!” “I don’t know why you’re crying, you can just get another dog!” “It’s not like they know what’s going on…” Let me tell you friends, do not listen to this bullshit. Whether you have dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, lizards, birds – you share a bond with them! You don’t even share a language but you understand each other completely. They make you laugh, they drive you nuts, they make you far more familiar with another being’s poop than you feel you should be and you wouldn’t have it any other way. It is because we love them that we sometimes are faced with the decision to have a poorly pet euthanised, especially if it means they don’t suffer. I did it with Shandy when we were told she wasn’t going to recover from pyometra, and I did it with Munch when age finally became too much of a hindrance for her to carry on.
Don’t be afraid to seek help for fear of being mocked, or not taken seriously – anyone with a modicum of humanity will accept that you’re in pain and that you need support. Mental health charities, particularly those that deal with grief, recognise that pet bereavement is a source of emotional distress and offer relevant advice.
Those who have said goodbye to their furry ones, please hold onto the fact that they loved you from the moment they went home with you, to the moment they left. As long as you hold them in your heart, they will never be gone. Hold onto that love, remember the good times and know that you gave them a good life with you.
The Blue Cross is a fantastic charity that offers support for pet bereavement. They were wonderful when I lost Shandy and I commend what they do for us pet lovers. Visit here to find out more.
This page on bereavement from Mind can explain the symptoms of grief in further detail, and may help in deciding if you need further support from your GP.
The Rainbow Bridge is a beautiful poem which offered me a lot of comfort in those darker days.