This month, we welcome guest blogger, Shirley McCown who shares some insightful coping mechanisms when grieving the loss of a pet. Shirley is the Leader of a Pet Loss Support Group associated with the Shelter.

For many of us, our pets are an important part of our lives. They sleep with us, eat with us, some go to work with us and some are our constant companions. Where else but in Wyoming will you see drivers going down streets on a winter day, all dressed in winter garb, with the window rolled down, just so their companion dog can experience pure joy in having wind in the face?

Our pets love us with an unconditional love, sometimes even more than our family and friends. They don’t judge, argue, question us or require the fanciest things in life. All they need is fresh water, food, a soft bed and love. As pet parents, our responsibility is to give them these things plus training (yes, even pets need rules!), grooming, medical care, and finally, a peaceful death, if possible. (This is euthanasia, or as I call it, sending the pet to Heaven, which is the greatest gift you can give the pet.)

Our pets don’t live forever, no matter how much we want them to. Their lives are short, but in those years they show us what true love is. When the time comes where our pet’s life has come to its end, or due to illness the end is near, we find ourselves in the depths of despair. We suffer from the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, guilt and acceptance. This is not necessarily the order of the stages, each person is different, and we can go through them several times, back and forth. Other symptoms of grief are:

Loss of appetite and sleep
Loss of purpose in everyday life
Loss of daily routine
Loss of being a care giver
Withdrawal
Grief spurts (sudden/unexpected crying)
Confusion
Irritability
Numbness, fatigue, loneliness

When going through the grief process, please remember that there is no time limit for how long it will take. It can take weeks or months. But you will come through the depths of despair, even if you think that you won’t. You will always love your pet and won’t forget, and the pain you feel because of the loss will turn to happiness in having had the pet for as long as you did. These years together were a blessing for you both.

Going through grief during the holidays is another tough time. The first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary of adopting the pet are all hard. If you don’t feel like decorating for Christmas, or cooking a big meal, or going to a friend’s BBQ, that’s OK! Be gentle with yourself—you are going through a devastating time.

Often times our friends and family try to understand what we are experiencing, but hearing them say “I know just how you feel, I once had to put my pet to sleep when I was growing up” or “It was just an animal, you’ll get over it and get a new one” is often not helpful. If you can, either try to ignore this or appreciate the spirit in which it was intended. You need to be around people who will give you comfort, or who will just sit quietly with you.

Other tips to help in dealing with the loss:

• Write a letter to your pet. If you have kept a “baby book” or scrapbook for your pet, write this letter on the last page of the book. You can tell your pet about the first time you saw him/her, how much a part of your life it was, how much it is missed, mention some of the good times you had and that it will always be remembered.

• Don’t pick up their dishes, bed, or toys until you are ready.

• Going through the grieving process is what we are supposed to do in order to let our bodies get the grieving chemicals out. Holding the grief inside is not good. It is a necessary and unavoidable response to the loss.

• If you find that your grieving and crying are interfering with your normal daily activities, you can decide to grieve in one special place at home.

Remember that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not crazy. You have not lost your mind. You will come through on the other side of the grieving process and remember all the happy times you shared with your pet. You must let the pet go now, and think of the good times with a smile.

If you’re interested in joining a pet loss support group, please email rcliff@caswy.org.