How To Cope With The Loss Of A Pet - Or Help A Friend Who's Lost One
God forbid, but just the thought of not having your dog in your life anymore is devastating. And it becomes even more difficult when no one around can understand your feelings. If you or a friend is going through this situation, there are some things that can help. But first, it is important to understand the bond that a human shares with their dog.
What does the bond with your dog mean?
One thing is for sure that it is not just the world we see on social media, it’s not solely cuddles, and pictures, and fun. It is more than everything superficial.
- It is a commitment and responsibility. Your calendar revolves around your dog.
- You come back home to a non-judgemental being. You can be silly around them.
- They make you happy. At the same time, they also wag their tail whilelooking at you. And you know that you can make someone happy simply by being there.
- There is financial and physical responsibility. You have to take them out for walks, take care of their grooming and food.
- You invest your time in them. Dogs need attention and the lack of the same, makes them sad. So, you have to be there for them, play with them, talk gibberish to them.
Pradeepa from Furry Tales says “It’s like having a kid itself”. That’s why for a relationship that we share with our dog, losing them can be really hard.
What loss feels like?
Pradeepa is a certified Pet Bereavement Advisor, and no one could give a better insight into what that loss feels like. She mentions that loss is not just about losing them to death. It is also when your pet goes missing, or when you have to relocate and stay away from them.
Them physically not being there hits you.
It feels like all the colour has gone out of life. And despite having so many people around, you miss coming back home to that one being your life revolved around.
It’s like an indescribable void.
The pet could not even talk. And still, it gave you so much love you could hardly contain it. Your animal companion not being there is like losing your safe person, your comfort zone.
People’s comments can be disturbing.
Someone addressing your pet as “just a dog” is hurting enough. Them adding that “you will finally have your freedom now” just adds to it.
How can you help yourself?
There is no specific method that can help everyone. Grief is a personal experience, and everyone has a different path overcoming it. But here are some things that can help you.
1. Exercise or meditate
Exercising releases endorphins which in turn reduces one’s perception of pain. Whether you join some classes or do it on your own, go for it.
2. Recognise your triggers
If you feel that passing through a park or any other place reminds you of them, try avoiding it initially. And then once you have managed your triggers, you can associate those spots with happier memories instead.
3. Do some charity
Let the other dogs have some more treats, shelters, and pet care. It would feel like your dog has a legacy forward.
4. Surround yourself with people who understand
We might sometimes ignore those who are also grieving for the same pet. Their intensity of grief might be different from yours, but you can actually lean on each other.
Or there may be someone who understands your pain. Talk to them, or talk to a therapist or an advisor.
5. Before getting another dog, reflect.
If you feel that you want another dog because you really want to take care of them, you can definitely consider it. But if you are trying to replace the dog you had, it is not doable because each one is unique.
Some things that can help you take this decision are asking yourself (1) if you are emotionally ready?, (2) Will you be able to care for it properly?, (3) Will your grief interfere in raising it?, (4) Is everyone in the family ready for another pet?
6. Stop feeling guilty
Guilt comes hand in hand with losing a pet. You’d find yourself questioning the way you raised your dog or protected it. Instead, focus on how you did everything you could in your capacity as a human. Or as Pradeepa says, “We are animal lovers, we can’t play Gods”.
How can you help a friend going through the same?
1. Just being there helps
If you can’t be there physically, simply drop a message saying “Just checking on you. Don’t respond if you don’t feel like it. I just wanted to let you know that I am here.”
2. Don’t give unsolicited advice
You might not say something intentionally but it might hurt the person. So refrain from saying things like “they are in a better place”, “It was his time”, “You can move on in your life”. Also, don’t get a new dog for them if they are not looking for it.
3. Don’t force them to move on
Not everyone will be ready to move on from the memories of their dog. Some would like to hold onto it and cherish it for some time. Try not to invalidate those feelings.