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What to Say (& Not Say) to Someone Who Lost a Pet

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What to Say (& Not Say) to Someone Who Lost a Pet

As too many of us know, the death of a pet is devastating. Our pets are more than just animals; they are integral parts of our families, they are our confidants, our best friends, and our biggest fans. So when they pass, the feelings of grief we experience are very similar to the feelings we experience when we lose a person that was important to us–anger, denial, depression…they are all part of the healing process through which we eventually reach acceptance.

Pet loss is a delicate topic, and even if you’ve been through it yourself, it’s difficult to know what to say when someone you know experiences the death of a pet. Pet advice expert Steven May understands this, and in a recent essay titled What to Say, And What Not to Say, Following the Passing of a Pet, he offers some great insight on what to do.

“Throughout my long career working with both pets and [pet parents] I’ve assisted in more than 3,000 euthanasias and have been present in countess situations where a pet has passed due to natural or unnatural causes. And no matter how many times I go through the process it is never easy. The loss of a pet hurts. They remind us of milestones in our lives and often represent the true meaning of “unconditional love”…So what do we say to a person who has lost a pet? And, just as importantly, what do we not say?”

Say This

“Your pet was so lucky to have you.”

During times of grief many people look inward and ask themselves if there was anything else they could have done differently. Reminding someone of what a wonderful pet parent they were, and that their pet enjoyed the best life possible, can help to alleviate any guilt a pet [parent] may be feeling.

Don’t Say This

“When are you getting another pet?”

This implies that a pet is like a piece of furniture–if it breaks or gets old you just throw it out and get a new one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our pets provide the kind of emotional connection that, for some, can resonate deeper than what they feel with human beings. Pets demand that we be selfless and in return we are rewarded with unconditional love. That’s not something that can be erased immediately.

Say This

“Do you remember when…?”

Sharing a personal, heartwarming or funny story about a pet with a grieving [caregiver] can help move the focus away from the loss to a remembrance of happier times.  And it’s those happy times that will help many pet [parents] get through the tough times ahead.

Don’t Say This

“What’s the big deal? You have other pets.”

As any pet [parent] will tell you, each pet is different and brings something unique to our lives. Would you tell a parent that has lost a child, “Don’t worry about it. You have other kids?” Of course not. Be sensitive to the loss irrespective of how many pets a person might have.

Say This

“Is there anything I can do?”

It might sound cliché but if it’s truthful, and you’re willing to help, just knowing there is someone there if needed can provide a great deal of comfort to a grieving pet parent. But if you say it you need to mean it. If someone reaches out to you with a request after you’ve offered, and you’re not able or willing to help, you can damage a relationship forever.

Don’t Say This

“Are you really going to have [him/her] cremated?”

Just like it is with the passing of people, everyone has their own particular desires for how to handle the services. In the case of pets, cremation allows us to “keep” our pet with us forever. By implying to someone that their choice of cremation is foolish speaks to a personality void of understanding the desire for some type of physical presence.

Say This

“You did everything you could do.”

Many pet [parents] feel enormous guilt upon the passing of the pet. Perhaps they feel if they’d taken their pet to the vet earlier the outcome may have been different. Guilt is also often felt when it comes to end of life decisions, one of the hardest things a pet [parent] may have to go through. Letting the pet [parent] know they responded appropriately and with love can go a long way in helping to soothe a grieving [caregiver].

Don’t Say This

“It’s just a dog (cat, rabbit, hamster, etc.)”

This will invariably come from the person who has never [had] a pet. They can’t begin to understand the connection we feel with our pets and probably don’t view this statement as crass or insensitive. But you have to wonder if they would say the same kind of thing if they were talking about a family member or friend passing.

Do This

Sending a condolence card will be seen by most any grieving pet [parent] as a very thoughtful act. This is not the time for an email which is impersonal. Include a brief, handwritten note and include a photo of the pet in happier times if you have one. Another kind gesture is to make donation to a pet charity in the name of the [pet parent]. If the dog or cat died from cancer a donation to the Animal Cancer Fund or [another] worthy organization can mean the world to a grieving pet parent.

The bond we have with our pets runs deep. And one of the hardest parts about [having] a pet is that we know the odds are that we’ll outlive them. But in the relatively brief time we have our beloved friends we know the joy they bring and we’re willing to deal with that reality. Death is a part of life and eventually we move on. But that doesn’t negate the finality that comes with death; particularly in the days after. Showing the same type of sensitivity to someone who has lost a pet as we would if it was a relative or friend who has passed not only helps to alleviate grieving it also reminds us of the fragility of life. And if that doesn’t make you want to hug your pet a little tighter I’m not sure what will.

Related:
Mourning a Pet’s Death & Celebrating Their Life
Pet Loss: Matters of Love and Death
Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Cat or Dog

Read more: Cats, Dogs, Everyday Pet Care, Humor & Inspiration, Pets, , , ,

Selected by Laura Drucker, TAILS Editor

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TAILS is an interactive website, online community, and print magazine that celebrates the relationship between pets and their people. TAILS features expert knowledge, advice, pet product reviews, local resource guides, community event listings, and fun contests to promote and encourage people to live responsibly with their pets.

619 comments

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2:31PM PDT on Jul 28, 2015

Sharing

7:59PM PDT on May 15, 2015

My friend may be losing her pet rabbit, but we don't know for sure, all we know is that the rabbit was covered in it's own blood with no identifiable source. my friend is a university student so she doesn't have the money to take the rabbit to the vet, let alone to buy medicine. I'm posting this because I think my text message to her was very comforting so I thought I might share some.
My friend has many pets and because her rabbit is sick she was worrying about her other animals.
My Friend: "... I can't really handle stress, can you tell?"
Me: "When they go you will ball your eyes out."
"Because no matter the differences you have, you still love them."
"And because of that love you will do your very best to do right by them."
"Whether it be letting them go softly in their sleep with the help of drug, to get better together."
"But it is not time to lose hope yet. For we do not know what is going on for sure."
"It may be silly and it may be heartbreaking. But now is the time to love, and to love with all your heart."
My Friend: "You made me cry a little... I'm holding it back cause I'm with my family."
Me: "You should shed your tears. It is a sign of your love."

The conversation continues after that, but my friend did most of the talking so I'm going to end it here to save her privacy.

I hope some of these words will be of use to other people going through the same thing.

6:49AM PDT on Mar 11, 2015

Thank you

2:41PM PST on Jan 14, 2015

Mike R., You're great! What a wonderful friend, indeed, you are to your co-worker. We need more people like you in this world. Bless you. :-)

1:33PM PST on Jan 14, 2015

Last night I worked a shift for a co-worker because her cat was dying and she wanted to see him before he died. Then she's not sure if she wants to work tomorrow yet. I also said I wanted to make a donation to our local SPCA in his memory!

10:41AM PST on Jan 5, 2015

Good advice. As someone who has lost two dogs and a cat in the past 2 years (the cat and 1 dog were rescues), most recent Dec. 19, pet loss is devistating to me. Both dogs were lost in the month of December. I have had people make these types of remarks to me in the past and they certainly hurt and I wanted to scratch their eyes out. It is never OK to belittle someone's love for their pet.

12:23AM PST on Jan 5, 2015

Lori D, if someone said that to you, you would be well within your rights to stuff 'em in the freezer for when you get your next pet!

6:53PM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Thanks for these tips. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

5:22PM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Losing loved ones who you live with is always hard. Your daily routine is forever changed.

1:34PM PST on Jan 4, 2015

Good advice! Certainly don't say - well I guess you'll be saving on pet food!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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