I love animals. I mean really love animals. I would have a houseful of everything from horses to hamsters if I could. As it is we only have 1 cat now, having recently lost Lili who we adopted when she was 2. Lili was 17 and a half and had recently started to go downhill quite rapidly. Eventually we made the decision that it was time to take her to the vet and put her to sleep.
Prior to losing Lili, the last time I lost an animal was 2 years ago when Lili’s ‘brother’ Dennis had had to be put to sleep having reached 16. I had not forgotten just how hard it is. On both occasions, I was absolutely floored for a few days, cried my heart out until I felt I didn’t have any tears left, and exhibited some very unusual behaviours (more of which later).
Lili was an elderly Burmese and when she started looking constantly uncomfortable, I knew it was time to say goodbye. As with Dennis, I held her as she slipped away. Afterward, the vet left me to say goodbye to her and I found myself stroking her and talking to her as she lay on the vets table. I didn’t want to leave her. I mean really didn’t want to. Odd? Maybe …and ‘Unusual Behaviour’ No 1, But the most important thing to remember when coping with a loss is that all behaviours and feelings are quite normal and you need to do whatever works for you to get through it. Trying to not think about it, or avoid it, will only put off the inevitable. Taking time to grieve, and accepting the loss of your pet is essential for allowing you to move on.
If you have had to make the decision to put a pet to sleep, there are often associated feelings of guilt. Try and remember that you ended your pet’s life because you wanted what was best for them. Being able to put an animal out of their distress and pain is a privilege, and something we do not have the luxury of doing when humans are suffering.
Do not let anyone tell you how to feel. You are in charge of your own grief. Take your time to get over it and don’t get into pointless arguments with people who say ‘It’s only a cat/dog/rabbit’. I remember having a wild urge to attack a work colleague who uttered those heartless words when I lost Dennis. I’m not even going to say that that is an ‘unusual behaviour’, though perhaps it would have been had I acted on my urge!
Morris was another rescue cat of ours that had to be put to sleep, sadly at quite a young age as he had ear cancer. I remember bringing him home from the vet and sitting in the hall crying and holding his paws until Andy came home. Andy gently persuaded me to put Morris upstairs until later when he could prepare the garden for his burial. But I couldn’t leave him alone upstairs and sat in the lounge holding him wrapped in a blanket for most of the afternoon. Unusual behaviour number 2. However odd that may seem, it gave me some comfort. Since then though we have had cats cremated, as I have a real issue with putting them into the cold hard ground.
We had a funeral for little Morris and although I think that also helped, I struggled over the next few days and nights thinking that he was cold in the ground. I had a persistent urge to exhume him and make him warm again. That particular urge, you will be happy to know, I resisted, but it was definitely ‘Unusual Behaviour’ No 3. I also had fantasises of phoning the vet and begging her to resuscitate him, as if that were even possible.
I mention all of these to reassure you that whatever bizzare thoughts you may have when coping with the loss of a pet, they are all perfectly normal, and a way of dealing with and processing your grief. And grief IS a process, something to be worked through with its various stages which include anger and denial.
Understanding you are going through a bereavement is a positive first step. Crying will help and it is essential that you talk about your feelings with whoever will listen. Andy, my husband was great, but I found my mum, son and daughter were amazing when it came to listening to me sobbing down the phone for hours on end.
Use what you believe in to help. If you have faith in an after life or the ‘rainbow bridge’ that is often mentioned, take comfort and solace in those thoughts.
Social media is great for getting support from like minded people. Facebook was just incredible, and helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone in what felt like a very dark place at times in those first few days. Especially when I looked at the food bowls and toys and revisited those places in the house and garden where they liked to sit.
Give yourself the time to grieve. It may take a week, a month or a year to come to acceptance. It needs to be worked through at your own pace. Unfortunately it’s usually not possible to take time off work and other responsibilities to grieve, but sticking with your normal routines may actually help.
Do not cut yourself off and hide away. Get outside as much as you can and book a couple of day trips or even a holiday if you are able to, to give yourself something to look forward to.
Memorialise your pet in a way that will be helpful for you. Perhaps by making a scrap book or a photo album. Write down your feelings if that helps, though that may be difficult in the early days.
Focus on all the wonderful times you had with your pet and what a amazing life you were able to give him or her. Celebrate that time you had together!
The old adage that ‘time heals’ is absolutely true and although it is hard, you will come to terms with it and move on with your life. Perhaps, when the time feels right, you may get another pet. This is NOT replacing your loss, or a betrayal of your pet, and nor does it mean that you have forgotten them. You will always have wonderful memories of the time you had together and the love you shared, and nothing can take that away.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, Smile because it happened.”
– Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss)