8 Ways to Navigate Grief After Losing a Pet

When your pet dies, the immediate pain is palpable. Here’s how to handle those first few days.

Posted in , Feb 25, 2022

Peggy and her first senior rescue, Brooks

The days immediately following a pet’s death can weigh heavy on the heart. Coming home to an empty house is difficult. You miss your beloved friend and family member. Here are some ideas to help you move through the grief.

1. Revisit happier times.

After my golden retriever Ike died, all I could think of were his final days—his painful expression, our fear and anguish. I went over those last moments again and again, wondering if we did all we could, if the vet had done all she could. Then one day my husband sat close to me, and together we looked through pictures and videos of Ike when he was spry and healthy. That shifted my focus from the grief to the happy times we spent together, which started the healing process.

2. Donate supplies.

People react to loss and grief differently. Does seeing your dog’s favorite plush monkey or your cat’s comfy bed make you feel closer to your late pet, or does it make your heart break? If the latter, consider giving the toys and supplies to another pet. It might make you feel better to know that your pet’s bed, toys and leash are helping another animal. Do you have leftover pet food? If you don’t have a neighbor or friend who could use it, donate it. Shelters and rescue groups are often in need of supplies and, in most cases, are willing to accept a bag of food, even if it’s been opened.

3. Create a memorial.

If you prefer to hang onto your pet’s things, select a few special items to keep on display. Some people keep their dog’s collar or their cat’s favorite toy. For Brooks, the first senior golden retriever we rescued, we made a framed collage with some favorite photos, a paw print, a lock of his fur and his dog tag. You can get creative—turn a dog bowl into a planter, for instance. Place a cross or stone in the garden. We received a gift of beautiful Vermont slates, engraved with our dogs’ names and dates of birth and death.

4. Frame a picture.

Select your favorite picture and keep it in a frame on the mantel or on a table where you will notice it frequently. Or have a picture enlarged, matted and framed to hang on the wall. Order a painting or drawing of your pet to frame (Etsy is great for this).

5. Write a tribute.

Putting down on paper your memories of your pet can be cathartic. If you feel inspired to write the story of your pet’s life, you can even have it printed and bound. You could write a poem or a letter to your pet. Some people write an obituary for their pet and publish it in the local newspaper.

6. Hold a service.

Many pet parents are comforted by the feeling of closure they get from a memorial service. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Do it just for yourself and your family or invite a few close friends. Select a reading that is meaningful to you, such as “The Rainbow Bridge,” and say a few words of remembrance. You could even play a song that expresses how you feel. End with a prayer.

7. Plant a tree.

Add a shrub or tree to your yard that you can watch grow. If you don’t have a yard or enough room in your yard for a tree, select a meaningful indoor plant or flower to grow in a pot by a window. Watching a living thing thrive and bloom can do wonders for the heart.

8. Hug a friendly pet.

As a therapy dog handler, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of spending time with animals. When we lost one of our dogs, we asked a friend to stop by with her therapy dog. I’ll never forget the comfort I felt putting my arms around her dog. Visiting with another animal can ease your grief. Or, if it feels right, it may be time to add a new pet to your family. Remember, there is no right or wrong amount of time to wait. Rescuing an animal from the shelter can be a way to honor your late pet and the love you shared.

For more inspiring animal stories, subscribe to All God’s Creatures magazine.

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