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

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Alberta, Canada

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

    I think we all know this. Just wanted to share.

    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.

    At the bottom of the web page there are links to several more articles that look very valuable.
    "To begin, begin." ~William Wordsworth

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2000
    Waltham, MA, USA
    I disagree with that last part, where st says "an email is impersonal." Emails are not necessarily impersonal, just as hand-written letters or cards aren't necessarily personal. It all depends on content. I think, if email is how you normally communicate with the person, an email would be just as nice.
    I've Been Frosted

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    Copenhagen, Denmark - GMT+1
    I agree with what it says, especially the bit about "get another cat/dog". It's just not the same, it's the one you lost you're attached to and missing.

    I can see the point Karen makes - an e-mail CAN be personal and well written.

    "I don't know which weapons will be used in the third World war, but in the fourth, it will be sticks and stones" --- Albert Einstein.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Delaware, USA - The First State/Diamond State - home of The Blue Hens
    I have to agree with the thought that emails really are too impersonal, even if you normally correspond with the person who has suffered the loss, in this manner. To me - that's like sending an ecard for Christmas - which is a no-no in my book - no matter how you normally keep in contact with that person. I don't think anyone would send an ecard or email to a person that just lost a friend or relative, so why would anyone do that for a person's pet-kid??

    To post a comment in a forum such as we all do here, is totally acceptable to me tho. Afterall - we wouldn't know each other if it wasn't for our pets, yet in most cases we don't even know one another's real/complete names - let alone their address.
    Wolfy ~ Fuzzbutt #3
    My little dog ~ a heartbeat at my feet

    Sparky the Fuzzbutt - PT's DOTD 8/3/2010
    RIP 2/28/1999~10/9/2012
    Myndi the Fuzzbutt - Mom's DOTD - Everyday
    RIP 1/24/1996~8/9/2013
    Ellie - Mom to the Fuzzbuttz

    To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
    Ecclesiastes 3:1
    The clock of life is wound but once and no man has the power
    To know just when the hands will stop - on what day, or what hour.
    Now is the only time you have, so live it with a will -
    Don't wait until tomorrow - the hands may then be still.
    ~~~~true author unknown~~~~

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Los Angeles, Ca
    The worst one, to me, is "it was just a cat/dog, etc..." JUST a cat? JUST a dog? Just a any form of pet? Oh no. The "Just a...." had a big part of my heart and was a very big part of my life and our family! The only thing they were "Just" of was beloved!
    Proud to be a crazy cat lady!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Westchester Cty, NY
    I can relate to the #4 don't. When Smokey the Elder was diagnosed with cancer, a friend asked if I was going to have her put down. I told her I don't believe in disposable pets. She had dogs! But I think it was because the cat had what she thought was something incurable.
    I've been finally defrosted by cassiesmom!
    "Not my circus, not my monkeys!"-Polish proverb

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Hilliard, Ohio
    It wasn't when I lost him but about three and a half weeks after I adopted him when my mom said something she shouldn't have regarding my first cat Chessie. I called her after finding out from the vet that he had a bad heart murmur. The very first thing she said was, "You had better find him another home because you can't afford to take care of him." I hadn't found out what was wrong yet or anything, just that he had a murmur, and she was telling me to just get rid of him. Later that evening, she again called me and began arguing about my keeping him. I've gotten into arguments with my parents over their trying to tell me how to live my life, but that was the closest I ever came to telling them where to go. I asked her if she would have gotten rid of me if something was wrong with me when I was born, and she kept insisting that it was different.


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