by Anne Galt
Saying goodbye to a beloved animal companion is hard at the best of times. But now, with so much isolation and uncertainty, the loss of that familiar comforting presence can seem unbearable. How can you cope when so much of normal life is already turned upside down?
Much of the country is gradually opening up, but many veterinary clinics have had to make adjustments. Your pet’s treatment, and eventual euthanasia, may have been handled entirely by clinic staff, or with less owner involvement than usual. Hard as it is, try to appreciate that this was done for the health interests of everyone involved, including you.
The overwhelming emotions you may be experiencing can make you believe you’re crazy. You’re not. Many people who are deeply attached to a pet can find their loss more wrenching and difficult than losing a human loved one. Then they wonder if something is wrong with them. This is quite common though. Even the best relationships between people have some rough patches. But your dear animal loved you unconditionally, no matter what. That love is excruciating to give up.
Guilt is a common feeling to surface now. If you think you should have noticed problems earlier, remember that concealing pain and distress is how animals have always acted in nature, as a way to survive. And whatever happened, that unconditional love of your pet means they never judged you.
Your home may seem too silent and empty. If you’re alone, keeping the radio or TV on for background noise is fine. You’re accustomed to talking to your pet. Having a conversation with their picture or toys may seem silly, but no one will hear you. Or try writing a letter to your companion. Tell them everything you’re feeling, and if the tears come welcome them. Getting your pain out in the open will help ease it.
Others may sympathize with your grief, whether in person, via email, text or video chat. And if you’re comfortable with social media, you may find support there. But if people can’t seem to grasp the depth of your sadness, or worse, make dismissive remarks, try to forgive them. Someone who hasn’t known the bond possible with a special animal is missing out on one of the greatest joys in life
You might be feeling so deeply lonely that you want to adopt a new pet right away. The demand for pets from all over the country, not only from folks who’ve recently lost one, has become extreme with the limited social contact we’re all experiencing. But there will always be animals in shelters who deserve a loving forever home. It’s important though not to make a rushed decision. Take the time you need to work through your grief. Give yourself permission to really feel those feelings, uncomfortable as it may be. You may choose to visit some shelters, maybe even volunteer there, before you’re ready to add that new family member. You’re not replacing the old one but finding room in your heart to begin a new relationship. This one will be different, but equally special over time. We can learn from our animals that our capacity to love is endless.
In over thirty years working in the equine industry as a certified judge and coach, Anne Galt has experienced the loss of many dearly loved animals. She has supported her students, friends and colleagues through their own difficult losses. But it was the death of her heart horse, Tara, (shown above after her last competitive season at age 31) that led her to actively study the grief journey that follows the loss of a beloved animal companion.
Anne is a certified Pet Bereavement Counselor through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (aplb.org), and assists with their online chat rooms. She is also trained in palliative care and grief support through a local hospice agency, where she is an active supervised volunteer. Visit Anne’s website by clicking this link: Paw and Hoof Pet Loss
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