Six months ago we lost our beloved ginger baby, Custard. He accompanied us on our venture across the globe 10 years ago, and adored everyone and everything. He was a lovely boy with simple tastes, enjoying nothing more than a bathe in the sun and the little Christmas boot he stole from the tree as a kitten. He was quiet, happy and completely healthy- so when he began to suffer from a seemingly preventable condition, we had no idea it would eventuate in his euthanasia.
For most, the grief of losing a pet is akin to the loss of any family member. They are the glue that binds a family together, each person cherishing the individual memories and connections they share with their pet. Whether their passing is expected or sudden, the associated pain should not be downgraded or overlooked. It’s important to identify and appropriately deal with their death in order to positively heal and treasure the time you had together.
Custard’s passing was horribly unexpected and left us asking ourselves the dreaded questions- could we have done more? Should we have kept trying? Did he know how much we loved him? The support we received by his vet was outstanding, and in time we were able to come to terms with his loss and the circumstances surrounding it. Despite losing our big boy Pepsi 5 years ago, experiencing this during my current studies struck a cord with me- and made me vow to provide my future clients with every piece of information and support in my power. Until then, I’ve compiled a list of little tips to help ease the strain of dealing with pet loss.
Know when it’s time
For many owners the death of their pet is sudden, such as complications during surgery, ongoing illness or old age. Others are forced into the predicament of whether to end their pet’s life artificially. This is a highly personal experience which requires a lot of soul-searching and discussion. As a general rule, sit down as a family or with close friends and discuss each others views. Has your pet’s general health and wellbeing been declining despite treatment? Have they been acting out of character- increased lethargy, lack of motivation or disinterest in their usual routine? Is their body condition declining? Are they going off their food? Has your vet alerted you to a poor prognosis due to a continuous disease process? It is completely natural to feel guarded and hesitant about making the call, but know that you are not God cruelly choosing to end their life. You are making this decision to ease their pain, and sometimes it is the kindest thing you could do. Reach out to your network- others have undoubtedly been in your position and could shed some new perspective on your dilemma.
Talk to your vet
Above all, your vet is human. They have experienced this countless times, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Express your concerns. Your vet understands your pet’s medical history and can iron out any misunderstandings surrounding alternative treatment. When you’re considering euthanasia or faced with imminent passing, often most paths for treatment have been explored. Beyond this, they are well equipped to help ease the pain of your decision from their own experience, and have plenty of contacts to provide you should you need further assistance.
Decide if you’d like to be present
When it comes time to say goodbye, many find the thought of leaving their pet alone too much to bear. Staying with them during the procedure serves as a final gesture of loyalty and love. Understandably, others find the pain of seeing the body too great and would prefer to say their goodbyes whilst their pet is alive. Neither is superior- it is completely up to you. Don’t let anybody judge your decision- it bears no reflection on the life and experiences you shared together.
Grief is an unpredictable and tormenting emotion, but it is inherently personal. The traditional stages of grieving can be experienced by some: denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance and resolution. For others (myself included) it manifests in a more wave-like fashion, characterised by highs and lows lasting an extended time. Never feel conscious of the length or fashion of your grief- it is always valid.
As a coping mechanism, some people try to disconnect from their pet and pretend they didn’t exist. Be honest about your feelings- if you need to beat up a pillow, cry for hours or watch re-runs of your favourite show, do it. Talk to your friends or family about your grief- reminiscing about the good times will really help you mend. Identifying what your pet meant to you will cement the fond memories you shared.
Remember your pet
Even though it may fill you with more tears, creating a legacy is vastly important in the road to healing. Revisit your favourite photographs, perhaps displaying some, sharing them with friends or through making a scrapbook. Plant something in their favourite spot in the garden, or display their favourite toy in a case. You may want to do something in honour of your pet, such as make a donation to the shelter you adopted them from or to a charity in aid of their disease. Not only do these experiences serve as poignant reminders, they all serve as catalysts for closure.
Look after your other pets
Pets are observant of all changes in the household, and form strong relationships with each other. This is never more true than with indoor cats such as ours, as they provide each other with the only outlet for primitive behaviours. Interspecies grief is also common- dogs will grieve over cats and vice versa. It’s important to keep their routine as normal as possible. Give them extra attention as they require and accept they may act out of character for a while.
Looking after yourself is the number one concern during the loss of a loved one. It is imperative you maintain your physical and emotional health, as becoming run down will only compound your feelings of hopelessness.
One of my most cherished experiences will be how thoroughly and kindly the vets cared for our welfare. When we were struggling to cope with the shock of Custard’s passing, the vet set aside time to meet with us after the emotions had calmed and really discuss his condition in depth. Not only did this aid in the progression of our grieving cycle, but it really alleviated our feelings of guilt. Knowing we had been as informed as possible and made the right decision for him was enough to help me go on with daily life. If you still feel uncertain, get your vet to recommend your local grief counsellor. Trained professionals specialise in pet loss, and there’s no shame in needing this guidance.
Above all, know that pet grief is completely normal. Shedding a tear for their loss is not something you can expect to avoid, and Custard’s passing has taken this long for me to be able to talk about. Although finding his little toys and remembering his nuances makes me sad, I know we gave him the best life imaginable. He was the converter of cat haters, lover of pipe cleaners and the most patient big brother to little Ringo. We love and miss you, Mr Pie.