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Coping with Pet Loss

The loss of a pet or farm animal can be devastating. Cope with the grief by memorializing your pet’s life.

By Sue Weaver

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Collect keepsakes of your pet to remember it by—a horseshoe from a horse or a collar from a dog—and display the items in a shadow box.

Remember Your Pet Today
Losing a pet is never easy, but having mementos helps ease the pain, especially later when we can handle something that brings cherished memories to mind. But having mementos requires advance planning. If there are animals in your life, start collecting keepsakes today.

Take photos and shoot video footage. Start when you get your animal and continue throughout his lifetime. If you don’t know how to take good photos or video footage, ask photography-minded friends to do it for you (most will be happy to help) or polish your own photography skills; there are a lot of websites to show you how.

Save your images in one place so they don’t get lost; store prints and negatives or slides in a photo album or storage box; for digital images, burn a CD or store them on a special flash drive. Later, you can use the photos to create a memorial web page on your farm website or at an add-your-own-pet-memorial site (find one by searching “memorial pet site” on a search engine), or compile a scrapbook incorporating photos and special items, such as dog-show ribbons, a lock of your horse’s mane or a snippet of alpaca fiber.

You can also create mementos containing something of your friend herself. The first year we sheared our little sheep, we shipped their wool to MacAusland’s Woollen Mills in Canada to be woven into blankets for our beds. You can have hitched horsehair jewelry made from your horse’s tail hair (search “custom horsehair jewelry”), commission a needle-felted llama made of your llama’s fiber, or knit a scarf incorporating combed undercoat from your dog.

Purchase an attractive box to save and store simple mementos: the puppy’s first toy, the kitten’s blankie, baby teeth or your horse’s shoe.

Or choose one of many paw-print kits on the market, keeping in mind that clay-based kits also accept hoof imprints very well. When you do these things, you’ll have wonderful memories you can hold in your hands after your pet is gone. It eases the pain when something tangible remains.

Memorialize Your Pet
Even if you haven’t collected mementos in advance, there are ways to memorialize a beloved pet and bring closure. Try one or more of these special tributes:

Hold a memorial service for your pet.
Make it as simple or as elaborate as you like. Invite people who knew your pet and appreciate your loss; don’t include those who scoff.

Build or buy a casket or choose a shroud or box in which to bury him.
Add things your pet enjoyed, like homemade dog biscuits, a favorite toy or a flake of sumptuous hay to cradle his head.

Order a headstone or marker.
Place it over your animal’s grave or in a spot that he loved. Or plant a bush, shrub, tree or flowers in a favorite spot in his memory, even if he isn’t buried there.

Have a portrait made of your pet (or craft it yourself).
Consider a special photo from your collection—a sketch, painting, sculpture, plaque or even a custom plush toy in your animal’s likeness. For cats and small dogs, buy a readymade toy animal that resembles your friend, and buckle his collar around the toy’s neck.

Keep your dog’s tags on your key ring.
Commission a leather bracelet featuring your horse’s halter nameplate. Order utilitarian items like a watch, coffee mug, tile or throw imprinted with your animal’s image to remember him on a daily basis.

Place a snippet of hair, a feather or a smidge of cremations in a locket.
Or commission a one-of-a-kind piece of cremation jewelry incorporating the ashes of your loved pet. Wear it to keep your pet close to your heart.

Collect everyday items your pet left behind.
Take your pet’s collars, toys, blankets, bowls, a horseshoe; add photos; then craft a shadow box to display these treasures or store them in an attractive box.

Write a poem, story, song or obituary about your pet.
Record special memories in a journal; add photos to make it complete. Or write a farewell letter to your pet; say what you’re feeling, what you loved about him and how you’re going to miss him. This can be very cathartic.  

Make a donation in your pet's memory to a special cause.
Or buy a children’s book about pet loss and donate it to a school or public library. Ask the librarian to place a bookplate in the front commemorating the life of your pet.

Observe anniversaries.
Remember days such as your pet’s birthday, the day he joined your household or the day he died. Light a candle in his memory, take out his scrapbook or gaze at his photo. Reminisce; remember good times that you shared. Light a candle in his honor on National Pet Memorial Day on the second Sunday in September.

Welcoming a New Pet
When pet loss is new and your emotions are in freefall, you may say and honestly mean, “I will never own another [xyz] again!” But time and distance have a way of healing most wounds. Eventually, you’ll likely wish to add another animal friend to your home, barn or stable.

However, most people enveloped in grief don’t want to cope with the logistics of adapting to and training a new companion animal, so please tell well-meaning friends and family not to gift you with another pet.

Don’t bring another animal into your household until every member has worked through his or her grief and agrees it’s time.

When you do, as tempting as it may be, don’t choose a look-alike pet. To avoid inadvertently comparing a newcomer with the friend you lost, choose a different breed, color or sex, and don’t give it your old pet’s name.

Helen Keller said it best when she stated, “What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Choose the right time and the right animal companion but, most importantly, choose to love again. Obtaining another pet won’t diminish your love for his predecessor, for he’ll be with you forever in your heart.

About the Author: Sue Weaver is a freelance writer and hobby farmer in Arkansas.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Hobby Farm Home.

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Coping with Pet Loss

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Reader Comments
Very well-written article.
Olive, Trinity, FL
Posted: 9/9/2010 9:11:32 PM
Excellent tips! You've covered much of what I did in my book "Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss." It's clear you understand this painful but universally experienced process. Thanks for sharing. Every article like this helps to legitimize pet loss as a valid cause of grief, despite society's tendency to dismiss it as frivolous and thus withhold permission for people to grieve. It's no wonder so many people who shared their stories in my book said it was more difficult for them to get past the loss of a pet than even many human deaths. They felt guilty or embarrassed for the intensity/duration of their grief and thus either rushed through, denied or buried those feelings.
Sid Korpi, Minneapolis, MN
Posted: 7/31/2010 2:02:43 PM
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