I call my friend Betty my “California Mom”. We met over seven years ago serving together at church. One of many reasons we bonded immediately is due to our love for dogs. Neither of us would be offended if you call us crazy dog ladies, because quite frankly, the name fits.
Betty had adopted Amber from a lady who could no longer care for the precious pup. Due to the color of her coat and many of us like to give our dogs endearing nicknames, she became “Amber, Pamber, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”. Betty became skilled at rambling off her full name the majority of the time. It was not until recent years that she became simply, Amber.
A few months ago, Betty started telling me how sick Amber was. She was not eating much and was losing weight at a rapid pace.
A trip to the vet detected problems with her liver.
Each time Betty would report to me of Amber’s worsening condition, my heart would sink. I simply could not talk to her about this subject. One of my dearest friends, and I changed the subject each time she brought it up. I knew how much she loved Amber and the unbearable hurt that was around the corner for her. It’s the day us animal lovers dread the most and I didn’t want to think about it.
On October 3rd, I awoke to a message from Betty informing me that Amber had died in my “sister” Robin’s arms just after midnight.
I envisioned the painful path that was unfolding for my “Mom”. She and Amber were inseparable and this sting of death was going to be devastating.
The strange part of it is that I speak with grieving families for a living yet I found I could not talk to Betty about her loss. I responded to her message with my love and condolences but I refused to hear the pain that I knew would be in her voice. Yes, I felt like the worst friend ever.
Why is the loss of a pet so hard? I think there is the obvious, it’s unconditional love. Pets never say the wrong thing, never misunderstand us, and never expect an apology. They are grateful for just a bowl of food, a pat on the head and a cuddle.
We also spend more time with our pets than we do most people in our lives. No, I am not saying pets are more important than people! They are just more constant. In Betty’s case, she was able to take Amber to work and so she was with her beloved pup 24/7.
So how do we begin the grief journey when it comes to our animals? I have described a few ways below. It may or may not surprise you that paying tribute to our pets can be very similar to paying tribute to our relatives.
Have A Ceremony – As Neil O’Connor wrote in his previous post “You Killed Lilly-Losing a Childhood Pet”, his father knew the importance of ceremony being a third generation Funeral Director. Gather family members and friends to tell funny and heartwarming stories about your pet.
Write An Obituary– It does not mean you are going to publish it in a newspaper, although stranger things have happened. But you could post it to your Facebook page or tuck it away in a special place. Sitting down and writing out your memories is key to beginning the healing process.
Design A Miniature Grave Marker– Whether you have buried your pet in your yard or cremated him/her, you can design a miniature grave marker as a tribute. Include a photograph and place it in a favorite spot in your yard to recall fond memories.
Custom Replica of Your Pet– There are multiple companies who will design custom stuffed replicas of your pet if you submit a photograph but these felted ones are my favorite. Isn’t this just the cutest thing!? Have a look at their gallery by clicking here.
Adopt A New Pet– This is my favorite option! Betty and I discussed it the other evening. She was concerned it was too soon. My reply to her was, “What if you had died? Would you want Amber to be alone without anyone to take care of her?” Adopting a new pet is not an attempt to replace the one you have lost. The purpose of a new pet is to make your heart whole again.
I am not my husband’s first love – his first love was Berkley, a beautiful black lab mix whom he got from shelter. After John and I were married, I quickly began to love her (almost) as much as he did.
I have seen my husband in deep throws of grieve two times in my life – when Berkley died and when his father died. Although it has been many years since we lost our beloved Berkley, you can still see her collar hanging in our garage and a photo of her in my husband’s wallet.
Thank you for sharing the very real pain and grief we feel when we lose a pet.
Thank you for sharing John’s grief journey over Berkley. Though men do not always demonstrate the emotions they are going through over the loss of a pet, their feelings are very real. Many attempt to trivialize it because “it was just a dog”.
My stepfather had to have his companion, Benzo, put to sleep twelve years ago. He still will not entertain the idea of getting another dog. He loves mine and showers them with attention when they visit, but he will never have another dog. He has chosen to avoid experiencing that type of loss again.
It’s pretty powerful to think these creatures can reach so deeply into our souls and connect with us for the short time we have them.
I know my current two dogs were gifts from God. They came at just the right time when I needed a purpose, something to take care of. They have brought me more joy than I ever imagined possible. I look at those faces and wish I knew what they were thinking sometimes.
Thanks again for sharing about John. I have not had the pleasure of meeting him yet, but know I will like him immediately just by hearing of his wonderful heart for animals.
I have been blessed to be a pet owner the majority of my life and yes they are all part of the family , mine was very diverse from cats, and three dogs to fish, ducks , geese , turkeys , rabbits , hamsters and rats . No snakes or lizards were allowed because my mom did not approve of them. No matter what the pet when that time came to say goodbye we did so in a dignified manner well maybe not the goldfish. I was crushed when my cat kiki died so with this I honored him with a feline funeral as I called it and there were my parents right there to support me . So I say yes make sure you honor your pet and at times you do get a new pet but I will always remember my beloved cat kiki. Thanks so much for sharing such a touching story Lori .
Wow! I have known you many years and never knew you had such an eclectic collection of animals growing up. I’m with your mom on the snakes and lizards. (Don’t tell Carrie Bayer).
Thank you too for sharing about Kiki. Sometimes men have a more difficult time expressing their feelings over losing a pet. I am glad you feel comfortable to do so and honored Kiki in such a special way.
You know I love you Joe, but more than ever when you reveal your heart with us.
You’re a great guy!
I love the options you open up to those of us who have lost pets. I remember loosing my rat, Penny, and having a sweet little funeral service for her. I wrote her “full name” on the box we buried her in and put her favorite blanket inside it with her. It was very sad for me but I still remember the experience rather vividly for how young I was. I see the value in that event and the significance I feel for it and it just affirms for me that everything you’ve written is completely true.
I can’t tel you how nice it is to have grief for a pet affirmed and shared here to publicly. Thank you for doing such a beautiful job.
Thank you for your loving and supportive comments. It was not until I became an adult (some would debate that has occurred) and started treating my dogs more like children than animals that I understood how truly painful this experience can be.
It has been nine years since my dog Dudley was put to sleep in my arms. I still remember every single detail of that day. I remember him trying to kiss me goodbye, but he was too weak to get his tongue completely out of his mouth and onto my face. It evokes so much emotion just thinking about it.
My current pups, Max and Bella, are only six years old and already I am dreading the day that something happens to them. We love our pets so much and have far too little time with them.
One thing I won’t do when their time with me is over….wait to adopt a new dog. I waited three years between Dudley and Max. I needed to fill that void much sooner.
Thank you again for all of your encouragement…..
Lori this is a wonderful article! The pain of losing a pet seeps into your bones. Your suggestions on ways to memorialize them are wonderful. I especially love the felted replicas…who knew?! I look forward to reading more of your blogs and will share this on FB for my other pet loving friends! Keep up the good work!
Thank you so much for commenting! One of my favorite parts of my job is meeting new friends, like you! I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble we get into down the road…… We are already off to a great start!!
The felt pets were suggested to me by our Director of Social Media, Molly. They are absolutely adorable and I am thinking of having some made of my Max and Bella.
Thank you for sharing this on your Facebook page also!!
Looking forward to getting together soon!!!
Thank you, Diane! You know how terrible I felt that I did not know how to be there for Betty during this most difficult time. Fortunately, she loves me despite my flaws! I am helping her find a new furry baby to adopt!!
See you November 2nd!!