When I stare into the cloudy eyes of my elderly poodle Jesse, I often wonder—why can’t our pets live forever? This old timer no longer hears the garage door open or his name being called. He sleeps more, eats less, and moves slower. His chocolate brown coat has thinned and is sprinkled with white. At fourteen, Jesse is a senior citizen.
I worry when I think about the future. Many owners of geriatric pets do. I can’t imagine life without Jesse and yet I know I must face reality. The sad fact is we outlive our pets. It doesn’t matter how long they have been a part of our family and our lives. Love and bonding does not have a time frame set in stone.
Jesse recently had a health scare that forced our family to discuss the inevitable, trying to come to grips with what the future holds for our elderly pet. Just thinking about life without our dog makes my heart skip a beat. He changed my life. This is what pets do; they are a source of comfort, friendship, inspiration, and unconditional love. It’s not “just a dog” or “just a cat”, by any means. Losing a beloved pet is losing a treasured family member and something every owner must face.
Many people go through the grieving process when they lose a pet. The process is similar to losing a family member or friend. It occurs in stages: denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance, and resolution.
Grief depends on the role the pet played in your life. Perhaps it was your childhood pet or a rescue situation. If it was a working dog, that person might not only be grieving the loss of a best friend, but also the loss of independence. For many that live alone, including seniors, their pet was a source of companionship. If you cared for your pet through a protracted illness, you likely grew to love him/her even more.
As I thought about the grieving process, I asked this question on the Facebook group Grooming Smarter “How has losing a beloved pet affected you?”
Losing her own dog resulted in Christa Kanellis becoming a groomer. She used every bit of love she felt for the dog she lost and put it towards other people’s dogs. Heidi Bulmer said, “My whole routine changed when I lost my dog at seventeen. Now, when I groom the senior dogs, I am more delicate and compassionate. I am more patient with their owners.”
Here are some suggestions if you have lost a pet:
1. Try to find new meaning and joy in your own life.
2. Stay connected with friends
3. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel
4. Reach out to others who have lost pets.
5. Take care of yourself, emotionally and physically.
6. Maintain your normal routine, especially if you have other pets.
7. Create a legacy.
8. Seek professional help if you need it.
You are not alone. Find fellow animal lovers, family members, and friends that understand what you are going through. Ask your veterinarian or local shelter if they can recommend a local pet loss counselor or support group. There are message boards, chat rooms, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss Bereavement Support Groups on the Internet. Reach out.
There is a special book called For Every Dog An Angel, by Christine Davis. Christine loses her forever dog, Martha, unexpectedly. When Christine wrote her story, she found peace knowing Martha was happy and watching over her. She began healing. Martha let Christine know it’s okay to find another dog to share the love she has to offer.
There is no timetable for mourning a loss. A bereaved owner knows no other creature will replace the pet they lost. However, when the time is right, the warm eyes of a new four-legged friend may capture a heart again.
Ellen Ehrlich is a mobile pet stylist who loves to think, talk, read, and write about pet grooming. Next to grooming, she loves to empower, motivate, and inspire other groomers to be the best they can be. Ellen is the author of The Successful Pet Groomer, Go Mobile And Succeed, and 49 Essays on Pet Grooming. For more information, go towww.gomobileandsucceed.com