Losing a pet is never easy, no matter if you've had it for just a few days, as an emergency pet hospice home, or for the animal's entire life. It make no difference what the animal is, if it walks on paws, hooves, swims, flies or slithers. It's still a loss, that leaves a humongous hole, a family member that is gone. You will never walk into the house and see their smiling face again, hear their woof, meow or whinny. Feel their heart beating under your palm, their warm body pressed against you.Kevin Smith recently shared a photo of the final moments with his beloved pet Mulder. Smith remembered his dog by quoting 'Dr. Who': "'Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.' Mulder was beyond worth it."
Lisa Blanck There are so many tasks that are associated when a pet is in their last hours. Do you end it's suffering, if it is in pain? Can anything be done to prolong their life? Have you done everything possible, emotionally, physically, and financially, that you can afford? At what point does the prolongation of a life that the animal may not want to live through become selfish on the part of the pet parent?
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross detailed the five stages of grief, and you may experience them even before your pet has passed on. Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief model was developed initially as a model for helping dying patients to cope with death and bereavement, however the concept also provides insight and guidance for coming to terms with personal trauma and change, and for helping others with emotional adjustment and coping, whatever the cause, including the death of a pet. The theory has been around since she penned the book On Death & Dying in 1969. Since then, there have been people who have added to the theory, substituted their own ideas, included other or alternative stages of bereavement. For simplicity, this article chooses to examine Dr. Kubler-Ross's original theory and how it pertains to the loss of a beloved pet.
There is a mnemonic device that some people may use to remember the stages in order of how they develop - DABDA. You may go back and forth between the stages; there are no hard and fast rules as to how much time each one may take. You may skip one entirely in your own grief process. For the point of this article, the five stages are detailed here, in Dr. Kubler-Ross's original design:
1 - Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It's a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely. In other words, you simply say it's not happening to me, to my pet, to my family.
2 - Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. You can even be angry with God, blaming fate. What did I do wrong? You may blame the doctors, the veterinarians, the specialists who weren't able to help.
3 - Bargaining Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing a death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. If I do this, will the circumstances change? If I try another doctor, can they do something differently to save my pet's life?
4 - Depression It's a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality. You may even feel sadness and depression after time has passed, when you think about the loss. It's only natural. You may worry that you didn't do enough, that you may have caused this due to lack of attention, or focus on that one day that you didn't spend enough time with your pet. That if you had been a good pet-parent you would have known something was wrong. But don't forget that pets will hide their illnesses for as long as they can. You may have an almost psychic bond with them, but you can't always know when something is really wrong, and they're not letting you know.
5 - Acceptance Again this stage definitely varies according to the person's situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dealing with a dying pet can enter this stage a long time before the animal passes. They choose to celebrate the life of the animal while it is still there, knowing the end is coming, but wanting to have some wonderful memories to treasure for years afterward.
Other choices to be made involve where do you take your pet on it's final day. Do you have a service come to your home to humanely euthanize it? They are very accommodating, and will try to fit your needs into their schedule. One service contacted by this Examiner was Lap of Love. They were willing to come to my home in the evening, when the veterinarian's office was no longer open, and I was unsure if my beloved pet would last till morning. However, you may not want to be reminded of the spot in the house where your pet took their last breath. They do offer services of taking the pet from the home for cremation, and eventually returning the ashes to you. Or, if you prefer, and it's legal, you can bury the animal in your yard. But please give him or her the send off a life of love with you deserves.
Others may choose to have the euthanization done by their veterinarian. Most veterinarians are very accommodating, willing to do this final act of devotion on your time schedule, letting you wait in the room with them, or leave if you prefer. I found the staff at John Young Hospital Animal Services to be a wonderful, caring environment, who saw my dog through a variety of stubborn illnesses. You can bring toys, objects, clothing, bones, anything that you think your pet would want when they reach the other side. If you choose cremation through the veterinarian, all these items will be cremated with your pet, and returned to you in a pretty box about 10 days later. Many people would love to have that option, of being treated humanely, bestowed upon themselves when their time comes.
You can then decide if you want to keep your pet's ashes in an urn, with a photo or memento, or use a scattering urn and distribute the ashes in places you and your pet spent time together, like a park, a beach, even the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant where you may have snuck them in a tasty burger. Before your pet passes, you may want to take an imprint of their paw in a cast, and put it in a frame with a photo. There are many options for remembrance. Another company called Putty Lovecan take that imprint and make a keepsake for your desk. All paw prints are made from high quality resin that is waterproof, hypoallergenic, durable and lightweight. They come in a variety of colors and can have your pets name engraved on it as well.
Don't forget to take care of yourself as well, after your pet has passed on. Find a pet bereavementgroup in your area. There's a nice, informal one in the Winter Park, Florida area who invited me to their first meeting. My dog Benny had traveled to many places with me in his 13 years, and he was known by many people in the area. His loss was too soon, and it hit very many of my friends and family very hard. It's OK to cry and show outward signs of grief for your pet. The human-animal bond is very strong, and for many people, the loss of a pet is felt as deeply as the loss of a close friend or family member. They had plenty of tissues and hugs to go around.
Talk about your pet with friends and family, including the good times, the bad times and even the way it ended, if you choose. Sharing the wonderful memories you have of your pet will help you progress through the grieving process. Don't be surprised if you find yourself tearing up at odd moments.
The narrative below was circulated on Facebook some time ago. It's not the usual one about theRainbow Bridge. I'm not sure I believe in that Bridge, but I do believe there is a place where people who do good works for animals will be welcomed by those animals they helped when it's their time to cross.
It's written by Benny Archuletta, called "The Rescuer's Final Reward", who has given permission to republish without restriction.
Unlike most days at the Rainbow Bridge, this day dawned cold and gray. All the recent arrivals at the Bridge did not know what to think, as they had never seen such a day. But the animals who had been waiting longer for their beloved people to accompany them across the Bridge knew what was happening, and they began to gather at the pathway leading to the Bridge. Soon an elderly dog came into view, head hung low and tail dragging. He approached slowly, and though he showed no sign of injury or illness, he was in great emotional pain. Unlike the animals gathered along the pathway, he had not been restored to youth and vigor upon arriving at the Bridge. He felt out of place, and wanted only to cross over and find happiness.
But as he approached the Bridge, his way was barred by an angel, who apologized and explained that the tired and broken-spirited old dog could not cross over. Only those animals accompanied by their people were allowed to cross the Bridge. Having nobody, and with nowhere else to turn, the dog trudged into the field in front of the Bridge.
There he found others like himself, elderly or infirm, sad and discouraged. Unlike the other animals waiting to cross the Bridge, these animals were not running or playing. They simply were lying in the grass, staring forlornly at the pathway across the Rainbow Bridge. The old dog took his place among them, watching the pathway and waiting.yet not knowing for what he was waiting.
One of the newer dogs at the Bridge asked a cat who had been there longer to explain what was happening. The cat replied, "Those poor animals were abandoned, turned away, or left at rescue places, but never found a home on earth. They all passed on with only the love of a rescuer to comfort them. Because they had no people to love them, they have nobody to escort them across the Rainbow Bridge."
The dog asked the cat, "So what will happen to those animals?" Before the cat could answer, the clouds began to part and the cold turned to bright sunshine. The cat replied, "Watch, and you will see."
In the distance was a single person, and as he approached the Bridge the old, infirm and sad animals in the field were bathed in a golden light. They were at once made young and healthy, and stood to see what their fate would be. The animals who had previously gathered at the pathway bowed their heads as the person approached. At each bowed head, the person offered a scratch or hug. One by one, the now youthful and healthy animals from the field fell into line behind the person. Together, they walked across the Rainbow Bridge to a future of happiness and unquestioned love.
The dog asked the cat, "What just happened?"
The cat responded, "That was a rescuer. The animals gathered along the pathway bowing in respect were those who had found their forever homes because of rescuers. They will cross over when their people arrive at the Bridge. The arrival here of a rescuer is a great and solemn event, and as a tribute they are permitted to perform one final act of rescue. They are allowed to escort all those poor animals they couldn't place on earth across the Rainbow Bridge."
The dog thought for a moment, then said, "I like rescuers." The cat smiled and replied, "So does heaven, my friend. So does heaven."
And when it's time, think about opening up your heart and home to another shelter or rescue pet who will return that love ten-fold. I already have, and I don't regret my decision. You'll never have the same love like the one you had with the one you lost, your "heart-dog-or-cat". But it will help fill up the space, one paw at a time.
And when it's my time, I hope to find all the pets I lost during my lifetime waiting for me, just around the next corner, with wagging tails and happy grins, saying, "Hi, Mom, we've been here waiting for you, come play with us!"