Anyone who has owned a pet, be it a cat, dog, rabbit or something a bit exotic, has no doubt felt sadness when the animal has died or been euthanised by the vet. Sudden death, such as a road traffic accident or death due to a long illness are equally hard.
The decision to euthanise a pet is one of the hardest decisions an owner will ever have to make on behalf of a loved pet. As a vet nurse, I have dealt with this many, many times and have shed countless tears with my clients over the death of a furry member of the family. It never gets any easier but, as long as the animal is let go with love and dignity, it’s the most loving thing we can do for an ill or old pet. Animals have the same emotions as we do and pain and suffering is a reality in their lives when illness or old age is against them. Different people experience grief in different ways. Besides sadness and loss, you may also experience other emotions
Guilt may occur if you feel responsible for your pet’s death – the “if only I had…” syndrome. It is pointless to feel guilty for the accident or illness that claimed your pet’s life and it makes grieving all the more difficult.
Denial makes it difficult to accept that your pet is really gone. It’s hard to imagine that your pet won’t greet you when you come home. Others find it hard to get a new pet for fear of being ‘disloyal’ to the old.
Anger may be directed at whatever killed your pet, the driver of the speeding car or the veterinarian who ‘failed’.
Depression is a natural consequence of grief but can leave you powerless to cope with your feelings. Extreme depression robs you of motivation and energy, causing you to be enveloped in sadness.
Be honest about how you feel and do whatever makes you feel better. Scream, cry or don’t. You may want to talk to someone and this is where your best friends, vet, vet nurse or even the doctor can help. Many people don’t understand what it is to lose a furry member of the family. “It’s just a cat” or “he was just a dog” is how some people will respond. But to the cat or dog’s family, they weren’t ‘just’ anything.
People who live alone with their dog or cat for company find themselves alone and isolated. Children can be confused and frightened. This is why we no longer call it ‘being put to sleep’.
Studies show that children too young to understand may not go to sleep for fear they will not wake up. It’s important to talk to children, give them things to do to help them cope with grieving. A memory book with pictures and stories about their pet can help, perhaps even a small photo beside their bed, until memories fade and you feel ready for the next pet. And don’t be afraid of getting another pet. Some people cope better getting one straight away, while others wait months and often years, but when it is right for you, the right pet will come along.
If this time is approaching for your pet, talk to your vet or vet nurse beforehand and talk over your wishes for that day. You may not be able to stay with your pet to talk afterwards. You can often pay for an additional service to get your pet’s ashes back and these can be scattered in your pet’s favourite place or kept until you feel ready to part with them.
It really doesn’t matter what other people think about the ‘mad’ dog or cat person. If it feels right for you and you get comfort from keeping the ashes, burying in the garden or saying goodbye at the vets, then you do what comforts you.
“You will then know how much you care, when you give your heart to a dog to tear” – Rudyard Kipling, The Power Of The Dog