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Pet Loss Resources

Only Farewell For Now, Sweet Friend...

        It has taken me a very long time to write about the difficult subject of saying goodbye. Even as I type this I'm not entirely certain I can express myself in a truly meaningful way, especially a way that might help those of you who may be suffering from the loss of a beloved pet or who are being confronted with the painful issue of euthanasia. After all the studying and reading I've done, along with my own losses in recent years, I only know one thing for certain - it simply isn't possible to truly resolve ourselves to the certainty of death.

        Acceptance is never easy and only seems to come after the fact and the passage of time. But how much time? How long does it take an aching heart to mend? Does it ever? These are questions no one can ever answer for us, ones we can only answer for ourselves and only after we're ready to move on with our lives.

        Life is change and death is but one them.

        If you've recently lost a beloved pet and you feel the process of grieving is interfering with your ability to tend to the ongoing demands of your life, I urge you to seek the counsel of someone you are sure will understand. A trusted friend or family member, clergy or favorite teacher, someone who is willing to just listen and offer you a shoulder and a sympathetic ear. For those of you who might not have this luxury there are many resources online that can help. Of course, if your grief is rendering you incapable of meeting your life's more important demands, such as performing your job, you may want to speak with a trained, professional bereavement counselor. Contact your regular doctor, search online or look in the Yellow Pages. Help may be closer than you know.

How can you prepare for the time of farewell?

        At the moment you allowed that new puppy or kitten into your life (and heart), the last thing on your mind was having to deal with debilitating injuries or illnesses. Nor were you thinking of a time in the future when your very special friend might have to depend on you to help ease it from a body that had gradually begun to decline right in front of your eyes yet you didn't even see it coming. How is it possible to even conceive that someone you love, whether it's a person or a pet, has reached a point in their existence where all possibility of happiness and comfort have become things of the past? When does anyone start to comprehend that a loved one's quality of life can never improve, that their once strong and beautiful body has become but a vessel containing only qualities of loss?

        Such hard, hard questions to ask. And can they even be answered correctly? It's up to each of us to know and what's more, only each of us can know where our pets are concerned. There are no rules set in stone as to when it's time to face and accept the facts because the facts are always unique, just as we and our pets are unique. There are a few things we must consider, though. If our pets are suffering from diseases or injuries that diminish their ability to remain the once happy and active family members they once were, if they are dependent upon the constant administration of drugs or have to undergo routine and discomforting or even painful medical procedures just to remain alive, especially if such medical care also diminishes us financially, then the most logical and humane solution probably is the swift and gentle painlessness of euthanasia. After full, happy and active lives our pets have succumbed to the ravages of time and years - deaf, blind, no longer able to control ongoing bodily functions - then euthanasia is the kindest gift we can ever give them.

        If your pet has reached any of these stages (and you'll know when he or she has), but you're unsure or unable to make a decision on your own, call and ask your vet for a consultation. Your vet can explain the entire process of euthanasia, let you know the cost and will be able to give you a qualified opinion about your pet's quality of life. Although the choice is ultimately up to you, you don't have to be entirely alone in making it.

        Once you've reached this point there are still other decisions you'll need to make. Please don't feel that you're betraying your beloved pet by making these decisions before the fact. You aren't. In facing such hard decisions, you will be granting your pet the ease and peace it needs. I think if they could tell us our pets would thank us for loving them so much and they'd applaud our courage. Most of all, I believe they'd tell us to try not to hurt so much. Still, there will be decisions you'll need to make.

        You'll need to take some time to consider if you want to be with your pet during the euthanasia procedure or if you feel it's best that it be done while you wait or even after you've left the vet's office. Some areas have mobile vets who will perform the procedure in the privacy and comfort of your home. Although they're primarily called for emergency euthanasia, some people like the idea of being able to have loved ones and other pets with them in saying farewell. Personally this wasn't a viable option for me back in 2003 when I knew it was time to have my little Bobo dog euthanized. I scheduled an appointment with the mobile vet service on a Monday or Tuesday to come on that following Friday. My intent was to spend the few days we had left quietly readying myself emotionally, saying a long farewell. While scheduling an appointment for destiny may work for some people, for me it just didn't pan out in the long run. I felt like I was manipulating or tampering with fate and cancelled.

        You will also need to be prepared for what comes after death - will you prefer to leave your pet's body with the vet or will you want to bring your pet home for burial? If you rent this may not be feasible. There are also laws and ordinaces in many places regarding this so you may want to find out what they are. Cremation, if it's available in your area, is often a good solution. While it isn't inexpensive, you will have something tangible to keep or disperse as you deem best. Interment in a pet cemetary is also something you may want to explore. While it's probably the most expensive option available, many people like the idea of having a beautiful, serene place to visit; one that's professionally tended year round.

        Whatever your choice may be, it's a good idea to know the costs before hand and how much you're willing or able to spend. Knowing these details and even making arrangements before the fact can help you to avoid errors in judgment which often occur during difficult times of confusion and grief.

        In time, however long it may take, your sorrow will abate and your heart will start to heal. Grant yourself the time to grieve and be good to yourself during this time. Just remember, the love you and your pet shared will never die, the happy memories will always remain. Seek out others you know will understand your sorrow, invite their support. Try not to shut yourself away from those who are willing to help you in any way, even if it's only to spend time talking over coffee or on the phone.

        Unfortunately, not everyone understands the love we share with our pets. When our pets die they don't understand how hard it can be for us. Because of this we often find their response to our sorrow hard to accept, even angering. If these people figure into our lives in some important capacity - a co-worker, boss, even a family member - we might be tempted to blow up or even sever our relationships with them. We never really know what resides in the hearts of others and sometimes those who respond to our pain in less than caring ways do so simply because they're afraid to confront their own feelings or have dealt unsuccessfully with their own losses. Just know that the world is still full of people who understand and are willing to help you however they may and however you will allow. If those who respond coldly mean anything at all important, just take a break from them for awhile until you're feeling better. This will be a better time for you to decide if their presence in your life is really all that important.

        Perhaps the sweetest tributes we can ever make to those we love are the gifts of smiles and laughter that accompany the good memories they gave us. The memories that remain ours forever.