Barney, the Scottish Terrier, who belonged to former president George W. Bush, has died. Barney was twelve years old and passed away due to his battle with Lymphoma. We can all still picture this little feisty yet loyal dog walking behind the president as he strolled through the White House lawn. The former president released a statement to the press about his loss. It was clear that George enjoyed spending time with Barney, loved him very much and will miss that good o’le dog.
For most of us, loosing a pet can be extremely difficult. Although we try to keep the good memories in mind we still need to grieve.
Grieving the loss of a pet is a normal response. In fact, the grief process with a beloved pet is very similar to what people experience after the death of a human loved one. Mourning the loss of a companion that is a source of non-judgmental love can be very difficult. The grief process is not cut and dry, and each person deals with it in different ways. All the emotions experienced are totally normal, whether you feel guilt, regret, disbelief, or plain old-fashioned sadness.
There are several common phases of grief, including shock, denial, anger and depression. Finally, acceptance comes, when the changes forced upon you by the loss of your pet are stabilized into a new lifestyle and habits. But acceptance takes time – it can be very difficult when you realize that all of a sudden, the morning walks are gone. Or you come home to an empty house, without your usual greeting kisses. It’s important to know, however, that although acceptance will come, you will likely always miss your loved one, as they made their unique stamp on your heart and your life.
CHILDREN and PET LOSS
Death can be traumatic and confusing to children. Though they tend to grieve for shorter periods of time, it is just as intense as it is for adults. Be patient with a grieving child, as they may want to talk about the loss of your family pet quite often. Never say that “God took your pet” or that the pet was “put to sleep.” It will instill fear in your child that God will take them (or their parents or siblings), making it difficult for them to go to sleep. Explain death in an age-appropriate way, and include your child or children in everything that is happening to help them achieve closure.
GRIEF and ANIMALS
Animals do get attached to each other. In fact, some show extreme stress when separated for their buddy. Pets that are grieving show identical symptoms as their bereaved human parents, including feelings of anxiety, restlessness and depression. Not eating or sleeping, as well as sighing often, are also quite common. Pets that are grieving will often search for their dead companion, or look for more attention from their owner.
If you have a surviving pet, keep their daily routine as normal as possible. Avoid paying them an unusual amount of attention as this can lead to separation anxiety when you leave. Try to keep things as “normal” as possible. Getting a new pet right away may or may not be a good idea, as you may not be ready for a new pet. You need to make sure you have the energy and desire for a new pet before you make any commitments.
TIME TO HEAL
Give yourself permission to grieve and allow the healing process to occur. Only you know what your pet meant to you, and it may help you to draw in some social support by expressing your feelings. Memorialize your pet in some special way that helps with closure, reflection and tribute to your pet.
Be patient with yourself and others, and realize that the experience of grieving is normal. Find simple pleasures that you can enjoy. Give yourself permission to be sad. Grief comes in waves that are often intense at the beginning; however it will become less debilitating as time goes on. The smallest reminder of a smell, sound or words can trigger a relapse. Grief can be frustrating, emotional and confusing all rolled into one. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or look for pet loss support groups.
Photo: Courtesy of Inspire Kelly via Flickr (CC by 2.0)