Dealing With Pet Loss
Most of us have suffered the pain of loss at some time in our life. When it is time to say farewell to a loved one, we may feel lost and alone, unable to deal with our grief. Children are especially vulnerable and need our support and care.
The loss of a pet can be very painful. A posting made several years ago by a distressed father on a message board described his attempt to ease his young son's pain. He returned home with a new piggie that afternoon. Sadly it seemed only to increase his son's grief. This posting sent Sonia searching for books to help with the loss of a pet, some of which are listed near the bottom of this article.
There are many, many ways to deal with grief, just as there are many stages of emotions when a loved one passes away. Mel and Allysse offer additional suggestions and resources in the Reference Forum.
- See also a forum discussion about pet loss and children.
Funerals for animals, just as for people, are very personal things. I can only describe what I do when one of my own pets have passed on. Right from when I was very little, my mother added a touch of ceremony to the whole funeral and this has, and will, stay with me forever.
If you are to bury any animal in your garden or backyard, it is important to choose a spot away from any public waterway and to bury your pet deep enough. Many local authorities require the pet be buried at least 2 feet deep. This will help prevent your pet from being dug up by another animal. It may also help to wrap the body in biodegradable cloth and put him or her in plastic bags, and place the pet in your freezer for a couple of days. Then remove the bags and bury your pet. Alternatively you can enquire at your local veterinary surgery for their Cremation service.
Soon after our pet had passed on, my mother and my family would sit together and make or adapt a cardboard box or other biodegradable container to form a coffin. When it was ready, we'd all take turns writing special messages on the box or place letters and tiny drawings inside. We would line the box with a little bedding and include minute amounts of a favourite treat our pet enjoyed, to 'send them on their way'. We'd gently place our loved one in the box. After a little while we'd say our farewells, often in between great sobs of sorrow, and gather a little candle to make the slow trek to the final resting place.
The hole was lined with the thinnest layer of bedding and after the coffin was placed in the ground, we all told our pet how much we love him or her, and how we'd miss him. We recited the Lord's Prayer, and talked of happy memories. Then each family member in turn placed a little earth into the grave, uttering yet more little messages. When we were little my brother and I would stand holding the candle, behind my mother while she would fill in the rest of the grave.
It is a good idea to 'heap' the soil on the grave, as they do in cemeteries, since as the body, of your loved one returns to the ground, the soil sinks in. It is much nicer, when the process is complete, to have level ground, as opposed to an indent, where your pet lay.
When the soil was heaped smoothly over, we'd place a simple cross on the grave made from two twigs bound together with twine, and also a couple of flowers from the garden. A few times my brother and I placed Dandelion flowers on the grave. Children are rarely concerned whether the flowers are weeds or not. Then we said a final few words, and (only did where it was safe to do so !) placed the candle on the grave top and left. More often than not, once back in the house, I'd cuddle up to my mother sobbing and talking about how I missed the much loved pet. My mother would agree and comfort me, making sure to listen and give me the time I needed. It is vitally important to try to answer any questions a child may have in a simple but honest manner.
WHEN IS IT RIGHT TO GET ANOTHER PET ?
This very much depends on the individual. Some people find it helps to get another pet almost immediately, and others need time to adjust to the loss. In a family it is very important to balance the needs of one person with the needs of others. If you have one person who wants a pet immediately, you could try explaining that 'X' is feeling very sad, and needs some time to think about all the happy times you'd had together and the death itself. The other party may be angry, resentful, and claim that you are trying to replace the pet in order to forget about them. Try to be as understanding as possible and explain that the person is still in a lot of pain and wants to try to ease that pain by sharing their love with another animal. And just because they want another pet, it doesn't mean they love the pet that has just passed any less.
When a little old pony we had at the stables died, the following week we had a new arrival. The children were horrified, and thought the owners were replacing Cheeko, and didn't love her anymore. I told them that the new pony needed a new home, where she'd receive lots of love and as I talked, I stood in the stable and stroked her. I told her that she has to be gentle and quiet with the children, as Cheeko, a brown pony, a little bigger than her, had died the previous week, and is in Heaven, and that the children where sad and missed her terribly. I then talked quietly to the pony about Cheeko and the mischief and happy times, and the children soon joined in. Of course we all cried and stroked and patted the new horse, but by the end of our tears, we all felt a lot better. You could try this with your children, and lie on the bed or floor with your new pet in between you, and talk about happy times that you'd had with your last pet. Don't look at your child's face for any great length of time in the beginning during this special session, as this will help them talk to you and adjust to the new pet. Just stroke the new pet and talk calmly, softly and gently. You could try saying that anytime your child is sad, he should talk to your new arrival as she/he would like to know all about the previous pet too.
In the online world, one can post a lasting memorial on one of the Rainbow Bridge sites available. The Rainbow Bridge is a wonderful piece, describing how when your pet dies they pass over the Rainbow Bridge and wait there, healthy and full of life, until you can join them. It is a beautiful and well loved piece and has helped many people at their time of need.
You might also compile a scrap book of pictures, photos and written stories and memories. This often helps one deal with this sad time, as it is a lasting memorial to refer to at distressing times.
Above all, remember that communication is vital. Talk often and listen a lot. If dealing with children, they will often give you clues as to how they are feeling. As I said dealing with grief is a complicated subject and a lot of time and patience is needed with young children.
Adults too may lose a beloved pet. As adults we may feel we cannot share our pain with others and that no one will understand our loss. If you cannot share it with friends, then ask your local vet if he knows of any bereavement group or advisor.
Here are a few of my favorite books, but sadly, none deals with guinea pigs:
Series Title: My Pet Died ( Let's Make a Book About It ) Author/Illustrator: Rachel Biale. Tricycle Press 1997
Age Range: Parenting: Early Reader, Eight to Ten, Ten to Twelve
A workbook for parents and children to share, this little paperback has color-book illustrations and prompts for children to draw or write about their pet, their feelings of loss, and their thoughts about death. This can be a beautiful way for children to memorialize their beloved pet and also deal with grief feelings as they learn recovery skills. A parent resource section is included, as well as directions for parents on every page. My second-grade daughter recently lost a cat, and she immediately began writing and drawing in this book. $7.95 ISBN: 1-883672-51-1
SCRUMPY by Elizabeth DALE, & Frederic JOOS. Andersen Press,1994
When Scrumpy the dog dies, Ben is devastated until, weeks later, he watches the antics of another dog in the street and realizes he could love a new puppy after all.
GOODBYE MAX by Holly KELLER. Walker, 1990
All Ben wants to do is cry when his beloved dog, Max, dies. Eventually he realizes that memories of him live on, and he even learns to love a new puppy.
BADGER'S PARTING GIFTS by Susan VARLEY. Random Century, 1992
All the animals are desperately unhappy when Badger dies, but they each have a special memory of something he had taught them that they could now do extremely well that helps take away their sadness.
I also highly recommend reading advice and exploring links found on the From Tracks In The Sand website.
The article above was generously contributed by Sonia. Thank you so much for your advice and insight!