It’s the part of pet parenthood that no one wants to deal with: What happens when they die?
Whether they come to us as youngsters, seniors or in-betweeners; furry, feathered or scaled; there’s a special kind of bond that only other pet parents truly understand. From the unconditional love our pets give us, to the silly, hilarious, and sometimes downright naughty things they do, our pets quickly make their way into our hearts as just another “one of the family.” So, it’s little wonder we struggle so much when that day finally does come to say goodbye.
With 69% of Australian households now owning a pet, the fact is that almost all owners will go through it at some point. Here at Kazoo, the sudden loss of family member Ollie (affectionately nicknamed ‘Mamba’) inspired us to speak with his mum, Leanne of LittleLeezie. And while everyone’s experience is different, we hope this article helps others who might be going through something similar now – or in the future.
Although Siamese kitties Ollie and Leroy weren’t officially related, they were brothers and best mates in every other sense of the word. And when Ollie suddenly passed away aged 8, mum Leanne says it was a loss that affected everyone in the household – including 10-year-old Leroy. “He didn’t cope well at all”, says Leanne. “He was depressed and started to suffer separation anxiety, which was a new behaviour for him. There are times I knew he was still looking for Ollie, which was upsetting.”
In fact, looking for your pet before realising they’re gone is a grief symptom commonly experienced by humans too. If you or someone you know has recently lost a pet, you might also find yourself having a hard time concentrating, feeling numb or hopeless, sleeping too much or not enough, overeating, not eating enough, or being hit by waves of emotion even if you thought you were doing ok. “I’ll hear noises and think that it might be Ollie… when it’s probably just Leroy walking down the hall”, says Leanne. “Also, because he was black, I’ll see a black jumper or something and do a double take before I remember.”
From those bedtime snuggles, over-the-top enthusiastic greetings, wet kisses, funny faces, and even that intuitive sense of knowing when we need extra affection too, pets play an incredibly important role in our lives. It’s only natural they’ll leave a big hole in our hearts. And it’s why the experts believe that the most important way to support the recovery process is to allow ourselves to experience those feelings of pain and sorrow – instead of trying to avoid thinking about it altogether. But how exactly are you supposed to do that?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to losing a pet, we’ve put together a few suggestions to help you or your loved ones work through grief in the healthiest way possible.
1. Give it time
Everyone is different in dealing with a loss of a pet, which is why you shouldn’t put a timeframe on moving on. Recovery begins by genuinely and emotionally accepting the situation and doing the things that are right for you. We hope you’ll find some of them here.
2. Ease the stress
If you also have a healthy pet or pets at home, Leanne suggests bringing them with you to the vet in a separate crate to get used to the smell. She explains, “When Ollie initially became unwell, he and Leroy went from best mates to fighting all the time. It was completely out of character for both of them, and very upsetting.” After bringing both cats to Ollie’s next appointment, Leanne noticed that although some tension remained once back at home, it did significantly reduce.
3. Talk it out
If those closest to you love pets, they’ll likely understand what you’re going through. But be warned, not everyone feels the same. For Leanne, “the worst thing someone could possibly say to me would be, ‘it’s just a cat’, but luckily that didn’t happen.” Even when intentions are good, the truth is many people struggle with what to say following the death of a pet. Generally, we recommend avoiding the temptation to relate or compare your situation with statements like, “I know how you feel. Pepper died last year.” Instead, try saying “I can’t imagine how you feel” and simply be there to listen.
4. When it feels right
While there are no rules about when to get a new pet, we do suggest making sure you and other family members have worked through your grief first. If your decision is just to avoid feeling sad, you won’t have truly gained closure. For Leanne, it also comes down to how well you know your pet. “Siamese cats are better in pairs. And there was such a notable difference in Leroy once we lost Ollie, we knew he needed a new friend as soon as possible and that it was worth the risk.”
5. No hard feelings
If you do decide to bring a new pet home, Leanne suggests getting a kitten or puppy to respect the natural hierarchy. As much as possible, try to stick with the existing routines of your older pet. Also aim to introduce the new pet slowly, such as keeping them in a crate for the first few days or week, so that your older pet has time to get acquainted on their own terms. Lastly, try to always express affection with your older pet first. “We want Leroy to know he is still the boss, and that we still love him just as much as always”, says Leanne.
6. Do what’s right
Many pet owners will notice their pet’s personality completely changes after becoming unwell, so it’s important to trust your gut instinct and get them checked out if something doesn’t seem right. Leanne also adds, “If the time comes to say goodbye, you need to do what is right for your pet, not what is right for you. Please give them the dignity they deserve.” If you are not having to deal with an emergency situation, you might choose to say goodbye at home where your pet is most comfortable.
7. Keep the love alive
Because it can be comforting to keep your pet in your memory, we’ve found a few Australian makers who have come up with some thoughtful ways to keep them with you in daily life:
- Personalised urn jewellery by Stardust Creations.
- One-of-a-kind pet portraits by the Pet Art Emporium.
- Crystal urns by Rainbow Paw Memorials.
- Garden signs by Custom Steel Appeal.
Do you know what it’s like to have a pet cross the rainbow bridge? Please share any advice or a favourite memory with our community of animal lovers in the comments below.