How To Cope With Losing a Family Pet

Losing a pet is one of the hardest things you can deal with next to losing a close friend or relative, but to me, our dog was our relative. I think it was harder for me than losing a few family members as bad as that may sound.

If you had told me in 2003, that I would cry over a dog, I would have probably laughed, if you were to say to me that a pet would be like a family member, I would have probably laughed at that as well. If you told me I would dress him for Halloween, buy him birthday cakes, and Christmas gifts, I again would have laughed; however all those years ago my wife and I went to a farm in Texas and found our Link, the first member of our family, and our life together. He had brought us years of love and has grown with my four boys.

So letting him go was hard and how we grieve is different for each family and each family member. Your children depending on their age will all be a little different. Between my wife and I, I was hit the hardest, as I am sure she will be by the loss of our other dog. Our children were all different, and it’s okay.

Luckily we had the ability to spend 14 short years with our Link, and the hardest thing I had to do was make the call to have him put down. Sometimes I think knowing was harder than actually having him put to rest.

The hard part is deciding when to do it. While it will be different for each pet these are some of the things we took into consideration.

How Will I Know it’s The Right Time

Quality of Remaining Life:

This was the hardest thing for us, and probably will be for most of you pet owners. Our dog didn’t have cancer or any significant life-threatening disease, but his body was breaking down. He started having trouble walking, and then it turned to falling, and then standing became hard for him.

I was okay with carrying him, and I did, I would help him up and down the stairs, but one day he started to throw up, and then every few hours he did it, and I knew, I knew it was time. It was no longer right to keep him here for us, but better to let him rest. He could not be happy like this.

DAD TIP: You have to consider their quality of life, and not yours, as hard as this may be. One of the hardest things to get over was watching him have good days, and thinking he is fine, but in reality, it was exactly that, a good day out of days of bad. I wanted to be selfish because of days like that, but in the end, it’s not about us.

How Is Their Temperament:

If your dog is starting to change who they are because of illness or pain, it might be time to consider or at least talk to your vet. Luckily our dog stayed the same all the way through, but several years ago a personal friend’s little pug completely changed. She pretty much never moved and when you would get close to her, she would snap (she was never like this). She had cancer, and while it all looked okay on the outside, the pain or the medications were changing her, and for her sake, they consulted with their vet and made the decision.

Talk To Your Vet:

The best thing you can do no matter what is consult your vet, he or she will guide you. After all, they love animals (My wife had to remind me of that), they want to help in any way they can. While they cannot decide for you, they can tell you the options you have and what going forward may be. So at least you will have a plan.

DAD TIP: In the end, no matter what you think it falls back on the pet’s quality of life. As our vet told us you have the capability to allow them to rest, be pain-free and no longer suffer. Honestly, there is no right time.

Preparing For The Day

Celebrate Their Life:

If you have the opportunity (meaning if you are choosing to put your pet down), I say celebrate their life. Our dog was just about three months shy of making his 14th birthday. We decided to move it up a few months, so we got his dog cake, one final chew toy, and had a birthday party. Sure there were tears, but we got one last great memory.

Prepare Your Children:

As soon as we knew it had to be done in the coming months, we informed our children (even our little one, who was three at the time). We figured it would be best to let them know ahead of time, so they have time if needed to prepare, and spend any additional time they can and want with their pet.

Don’t Doubt Yourself:

You will undoubtedly do this. It is a human experience; I did it several times over. Like I’ve stated, in the end, you are doing what is best for your pet, but you have to remember you are doing what’s best for them, so even though you will do it, try not to doubt your decision too much.

Make The Last Day Count:

Do the things you love to do with your pet, as long as they can handle it. If they like going to the park, take them even if you have to carry them, if they like swims and it’s not cold take them in the pool one last time.

This was the hardest day for us, and we spent the last week sleeping downstairs with our pet. Link loved being outside by the pool, so we spent the final few hours outside lounging by the pool, and let your kids be a part of it.

DAD TIP: While it was summertime for us, I would have let them stay home from school this day to spend time with our pet and family member.

Dealing With The Loss

Talk To Your Friends With Pets:

If you have close personal friends that have lost pets and have gone through loss speak with them, you may find they had shared the same experience or thoughts as you. You can even find folks online at forums like Reddit that you can chat with. If you have no one that you can speak with, check to see if there are Pet counselors at Everlife Memorial local to your area.

DAD TIP: Don’t worry about what some people will say. Some folks may tell you, that you are ridiculous for mourning over a pet, others might tell you to get over it. My pet was my family member, and even though he has been gone almost two years, I cried when I hung up a Christmas ornament with his last photo. It’s okay to feel the way you need.

Take Care Of Yourself:

Grief can take a toll on you, especially if you had to make the decision of letting your pet go, but remember you still need rest and food. Find things that force you to stay busy. This will help with passing a few hours each day.

Keep The Memories:

Sometimes it’s good to have a keepsake or two. It’s also to memorialize him or her, we had him cremated, and his ashes are in a wooden container with his name inscribed. I keep it on top of my bookshelf right in my home office next to where he slept all the time. No matter what you do, there is nothing wrong with doing it.

Take Care Of Other Pets:

If you have other pets don’t forget, they know something is not right as well. Our other Dog new something was wrong, she even knew a few days before (they are smart). If you have regular schedules and routines with your pets, you have to keep up with it, and honestly, they will help keep your mind at ease, and sometimes be the support you need during this time.

Help Your Children Understand and Cope:

It is okay to let them know that their pet has died, and is not coming back. We wanted to make sure our youngest understood that our pet was not coming back, as hard as it may sound we wanted him to know that. Our veterinary informed us that its best not to associate it with anything else, like going away or sleeping. She stated that sometimes they think sleeping means they will come back, or she had seen some cases where the child was afraid to sleep because they won’t come back like their pet. So we found it worked out to be direct.

A Few Things To Know About How Children May React

Our youngest shared our emotions, so when you cry they will cry when their siblings cried he cried, so it’s safe to say they typically mimic those around them.

Our Eight-year-old (at that time) didn’t say much; he didn’t cry right away; he was just silent and wanted to be alone. We left him that way for a day and then we talked with him. Later the following day he cried for a bit, and then he was done.

Our Eleven-year-old (at that time), took it the hardest, but he was probably the closest with our dog, he also went with us to put him down, so he had the full understanding and took the experience very personal. We talked and cried together.

Our Thirteen-year-old (at that time), took it just as hard, but couldn’t be apart of putting him down, he spent a lot of time with the family, but he also spent a lot of time alone thinking about it. He also was distraught with our vet, he felt she killed our dog, so we had to have a few chats with him regarding this, and that it was not the vet’s fault, but it was something we had to do for our dog.

Each child will have their own experience be it age or personality they are going to grieve differently. Some may regress, others may want to be alone, the younger ones mimic, and it’s all acceptable. The most important thing you can do is be supportive, and talk to them.


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