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

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.

376 comments

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11:39AM PDT on Apr 20, 2014

thanks for good reminders

4:52AM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

I am very surprised that, in this community of supposedly caring people, no one but me has posted sympathy in this thread, Jenevieve. I know folks go for new discussions rather than older ones, however I thought someone else would have bothered!

12:27PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

"Thank you Rosemary."

You're welcome, Jenevieve! I'm just horrified at the whole story There seem no end to the nighmarish twists and turns, except that, mercifully, Elsie got better!

As for that lock, it does make me feel fortunate that I'm an owner-occupier who can get things like that done, but that's no help to you! Your landlord should be ashamed of making you wait so long!

12:08PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Got cut off again!

It took 5 AND A HALF YEARS to get my landlord to put a lock on the screen door. Maintenance came and put a lock on the screen THE DAY AFTER the intruder assaulted my cat! All I got from the landlord was "SOOORRY!" ..

Note: After the police came screaming through my house AT GUN POINT, searching my house, ..never did I hear,.. "Are you okay? Are your cats okay from either the police or the landlord. Here my property is "supposed" to be "Pet friendly."

Once again,.. I've learned a HUGE lesson about the depth of compassion in "What to say, .. and What not to say" to someone who has lost a pet, or for whom has been grief stricken by their animals being abused, injured or enduring prolonged illness that causes an emotional breakdown." Upset is Upset. Berievement is Berievement. Grief is Grief. They all fall into the same category, at different levels and phases.You can't just surrender your animal without emotion. Our pets are an integral part of our lives. You can't jjust surrender your pet, and say "Oh Well!" Maybe a vet can be emotionally detached, but it doesn't mean that we are!

11:51AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Sorry, got cut off.

I didn't know or expect for my cat to be seen by a new vet (business partner) that I had never met!
The office receptionist said,.."Well, you should have asked for the Dr that you wanted! I was totally flustered, as the PETA rep had talked to MY VET when she made the arrangements for me!
I hadn't been informed or asked which vet I wanted to see when I walked in! I was just asked how Elsie was doing? I hadn't been informed that my vet had expanded her business and added a new partner!
It was enough that I was given a intake conversation with a techm ans then this unknown vet walked in, looked at my cat, end then they walked out, and left us sitithng for almost an hour not knowing what was going on! Why the Dr and tech returned, they said that they had tow nearly dying dogs that were priority to my cats needs. Really! My cat had been assaulted in MY HOME BY AN INTRUDER! The contusion that was inflicted was draining! I was told that the cost for the care was going to $55. Instead I get a bill for $500!
I told PETA, "Why don't you investigate how vets are now treating animals in pain!" I wasn't given given care or compassion! I was given a bill for $500! (PETA paid for the initial office visit of $53. I was left with the rest) I'm just now coming down off the grief, into a state of relief! It was enough that it took 5 AND A HALF YEARS to get my landlord to put a lock on the screen door. Maintenance came and put a lock on the screen THE DAY AFT

11:36AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Thank you Rosemary.
I had actually called PETA upon a HORRIBLE solicitation that I got in the mail, mentioning that the pictures were a double blow to what happened to my cat. I received 4 phone calls the day after from a PETA rep in concern to my cat. By the third phone call and email, I was accused of abusing my cat for not getting him immediate care, since the bill was going to be astronomical!
The rep called my vet and made an appointment for me to take it in, as they provided me with the funds for the initial visit, but I was aslo threatened upon being told that if the cat was not well in four days, PETA was going to order that my cat be put down!
By the grace of God, Due to the treatment that my pharmacist had previously put together for me prior to seeing the vet, and then the added antibiotic, Elsie (my cat) made a MIRACULOUS turn around that I NEVER EXPECTED!

I called PETA back four days after the incident to report my cat's progress, while mentioning that I was quite offended upon being accused of "Abusing my cats" as I explained the extent of TOP financial priority my cats receive on a monthly and yearly basis, and I explained the comfort, love, and nutrition my cats receive, as well as detailing my home environment to include a Zen garden for the cats. YEA,.. I REALLY ABUSE MY CATS!! They've NEVER been sick in over 10 years! I was condescended upon being told that I should have found a better vet! Really! I didn't know or expect for my cat to be seen by a

10:15AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Jenevieve, I'm so sorry! Sorry for your cat, sorry for you having your home broken into, sorry that vet and the vet tech were so harsh! Sorry all round!

9:16AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

As I come back to this article, I am finding it ironic, that three weeks ago, an intruder broke into my house and assaulted one of my cats, kicking the day lights out of him, leaving him with a three inch around contusion and abcess on his chest, and a large gash on his nose, as well as what was thought to look like my cat had lost his eye sight and hearing.
When I took my cat to the vet, she had NO COMPASSION OR CONCERN for the cat, nor did she care about my connection to my cat, as I have had him since the day he was born, (being 10 years now) She treated my cat like he was a "Specimen" after being brutalized.
The vet went into "Auto pilot" starting to prep my cat for an UNNECCESSARY Surgical procedure, being flippant in demeanor when she stated that she was giving me a "free written prescription for the cat." The vet tech was more freaked out by the fact that my house had been broken into while I was out taking out the trash, than the fact that my cat was in pain and not doing well. I thought I WAS GOING TO LOSE HIM!
When I walked out of the room in tears,.. the front desk receptionist said,.. "Well, you have a hard decision to make." (in consideration to putting him down without giving the cat a chance to recuperate) By miracle, three days later, my cat was back to normal and healed good as new! You would think that a vet would have more heart when an animal has been violated! My pharmacist had more compassion, calling twice to see how my cat was!

8:37AM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

It's amazingly difficult to lose your pet. Another family member, and like a baby most times, cuz they've been sick. So act as if they lost a family member, right? The animals wind up gallivanting all over the world with other animals... having more fun than us!!! And they meet up with the family members. All is good : ) Peace

6:47AM PDT on Oct 2, 2013

Diane- you said to Jen (in a condescending tone yourself, "Sorry, but there are many in that field for nothing but their paycheck and some have even taken advantage of those for whom they are caring and defrauded them of all their worldly assets. I'm not saying you have, so don't take that personally, but it's been done and by many."

IF you were paying any bit of attention to what Jen was writing on here, you would realize that is EXACTLY what she was talking about!!! So- where in the world is the problem other than some you may have created??? Now you expect Jen to apologize or something???

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

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