Grieving and Support

The loss of an animal companion, whether due to death, being lost or stolen, or placement in a new home, may be one of the most devastating and painful experiences we ever face. For many, such a loss is as traumatic as losing a family member or a dear friend and can trigger an intense grieving process.

Grieving for a loved animal is a natural and normal reaction and will vary from person to person.

Shock, denial and feelings of anger and guilt are frequently felt upon learning our pet is terminally ill, injured or dead; these feelings may last minutes to weeks. Typically there is a sense of numbness, disorientation or unreality. As we struggle to come to terms with the reality of the loss, many of us will experience waves of grief and intense painful awareness, alternating with periods of exhaustion and automatic functioning.

A sense of disorganization often represents the lowest point of the grief process. We frequently feel aimless, hopeless and depressed because of the void left by the loss. Reorganization and resolution of the grief may occur days, weeks or even years later as we work through our feelings and begin to rediscover and reconnect with life. As time passes, we can focus more on fond memories and less on the pain of separation.

We may experience all, some or none of the above reactions and the timing and intensity of these feelings varies among individuals. It is important to acknowledge our feelings, whatever they may be, and give ourselves permission to grieve.

Self-Care measures for the bereaved:

• Attend a support group.

• Don't be afraid of your feelings; be open to sharing them.

• Exercise, eat right and get plenty of rest.

• Involve yourself in activities that are comforting or enjoyable.

• Avoid alcohol and other drugs that can intensify feelings of depression.

• Manage one day at a time.

How to support a friend in grief:

• As soon as you learn of the loss, get in touch; it is never too late to offer concern and support.

• Silence is OK. There is comfort in quiet company.

• Instead of cliches that might minimize the loss, simply say "I'm sorry" or "How can I help." It is helpful to talk openly about the loss.

• Be accepting of your friend's feelings, whatever they may be.

• Try not to be upset or uncomfortable if your friend cries. Remember that tears can be healing.

• Don't be afraid to offer a hug to your friend.

• Try to plan activities you can do together. If one offer is declined, don't be hurt and don't give up.

• Be patient; grief is an individual process and resolution comes at different times for different people.

• Remember your friend on special days such as birthdays and holidays, as well as the anniversary date of the loss, times when the loss will be more acutely felt.

Pet loss support hotline numbers

• Staffed by Washington State University Veterinary Medical students

1-(866) 266-8635 or (509) 335-5704