Saying Goodbye to a Pet
At Lake Olympia Animal Hospital, we have been honored to meet many beloved pets over the years. Our pets are brought into our homes and our hearts, where they are cherished and loved. We talk to them, sharing our secrets, dreams, and fears with them. We trust them with our hearts and they listen to all we have to say. What more could we possibly ask for? Unfortunately our treasured companions have much shorter life spans than we do. Saying good-bye is never easy, but knowing what to expect and realizing that you’re not alone can make the grieving process a lot easier. There are five stages of mourning that most people pass through, although everyone experiences them at different intensity levels, for varying lengths of time, and not always in the same order. Along the way some of the stages converge and overlap. One of the most important things to realize is that the feelings are normal.
When is it time? Am I doing the right thing? How does one know how to make this decision? These are questions EVERY pet owner faces, even veterinary professionals. We are here to answer any questions and we will do our best to help you through this difficult time. Our team members have all been in your shoes over the years with our own companions, and please know we are here for you and your beloved pet.
How do I know when it is time to euthanize my pet?
If your pet can no longer do with you and your family the things he or she once enjoyed, if your pet cannot respond to you in the usual ways, or if there is more pain than pleasure in his or her life, it may be time to consider euthanasia. We understand the special bond you have with your pet and can examine and evaluate your pet’s condition. Because the doctor cannot make the decision for you, it is important that you fully understand your pet’s condition. If there is any part of the diagnosis or implications for your pet’s future health that you do not understand, please ask to have it explained again. Rarely will the situation require an immediate decision. Usually, you will have time to consider all the information before making a decision. As you make your decision, you may wish to discuss the care of the remains for your pet’s body with your family and veterinarian. You have several options, and your veterinarian can provide information about cremation and other alternatives.
Will I be able to stay with my pet during the euthanasia procedure?
Yes, many owners choose to stay with their pet to provide comfort during the procedure. Other owners feel they would be overcome with grief and prefer not to have the memories of the euthanasia procedure. We provide support and understanding in either situation. If you choose to be with your pet, please make an appointment to come in and we will help and guide you through the process. If you choose not to stay with your pet, you may spend some time at home or in the hospital saying goodbye, and then leave before the procedure.
What exactly happens during the euthanasia procedure?
The medication used to perform euthanasia is given intravenously. We place an IV catheter for the comfort of your pet and family, in order to have easy access to administer the drug. If you choose to stay during the procedure, you and your family can hold your pet or be close to say goodbye during their final moments. The solution given is designed to facilitate a very gentle, rapid, and humane passing.
What happens to my pet’s body?
You may choose to have your pet’s body cremated with or without ashes returned to you. Our staff will help you with this decision and answer any questions you may have.
How can I say goodbye and bear the sorrow upon losing my pet?
Saying goodbye is profoundly sad and painful but is an important step in the natural feelings of grief, sorrow, and loss. Your pet is a very important part of your life, and it is normal for you to feel like you are losing a close friend or family member—because you are. Once the decision for euthanasia has been made, you and your other family members may want to spend a last evening with your pet at home or visit your pet in the hospital, if appropriate. It is as natural and necessary to grieve for the loss of an animal friend as it is for any loved one who dies. The grieving process often begins before your pet has passed away, so it’s important to take care of yourself and seek help if you need it. Please know we are here to help you and your family during this stressful time.
Denial is an escape from the difficult reality of what has happened and allows you to sidestep the pain and hurt for a little while. Sometimes you’ll almost hear Rover’s collar jingle, or swear you can almost feel Felix brush up against your legs. It is not uncommon for people to believe their pet is wandering around outside somewhere. This notion is especially strong for people who choose not to see their pets after they’ve passed. It is normal to go through a period of denial, thinking that everything will remain the same. But if the denial stage lasts too long, the painful feelings will likely sneak up when you’re least prepared for them.
Much like denial, anger is another way of focusing the pain and hurt on something. It is human nature to look for someone or something to blame when you are sad and hurt. Realizing that sometimes suffering just happens is difficult to do, so people tend to find a scapegoat to pin the blame on. Our pets sometimes end up as the scapegoats because we’re angry with them for leaving us. Anger can also be directed inward or at someone else in the family-especially if it seems that something could have been avoided. Veterinarians are another convenient target for anger, because they euthanized the pet. Even though anger is one of the normal steps in the grief process, it is important to remember that no one is to blame. Death is simply an unavoidable fact of life.
When a pet dies, people often blame themselves. Wondering what could have been done differently is all too common. Many people wonder what would have happened if they had only fed their pet a better diet or exercised them more. Another common outlet for guilt is wishing that you had spent more quality time with your pet when she was alive. If only you had taken her every day for that morning walk she loved so much. The key thing to remember about guilt is that it doesn’t do any good and won’t change the past. Difficult as this may be, there is no point in feeling guilty about these things now that your pet is gone. You’ll feel better once you accept the things you cannot change and move on with your life.
Feeling depressed after the loss of a loved one is completely understandable. Being withdrawn, lost, and confused is normal. Many people experience a loss of appetite or an inability to focus, and find that taking care of even the simple things becomes a chore. Depression is like a steep downhill slope-once sliding downhill, it is difficult to stop and return to normal. Losing a cherished pet can open the floodgates and release many other unrelated feelings and emotions you may have been repressing, making the depression even worse. For many people their pet was their only constant-everything else in life may be unpleasant and difficult, but they could always count on Rover to meet them at the door with a kiss. Pets offer amazing unconditional love and support. When that source of strength is removed, it is no surprise that depression follows.
Accepting that a dear friend is gone is hard to do. It is a long road to travel, but there are many things to do along the way to make it easier. You must, for example, allow time to mourn. Sadly, some people don’t understand what it feels like to love an animal with their whole heart; consequently, they also don’t understand why anyone would be upset when an animal dies. But you know what an important role your pet played in your life, so cherish those memories. Bringing out your pictures of your departed friend may help. Remembering all of the good times with your pet will bring a smile to your face, even if it is through tears. And although it may be painful to think about her now that she’s gone, it will help you to focus on the good things and move past the pain. You may also want to seek out support. Family, friends, clergy, and counselors offer a vast network of resources to help you in your time of need. Talking to other people who understand the loss will help you immensely. All of these things will help make it easier to accept the loss, deal with it, and move on.
Easing the pain
Although nothing will take away the loss, here are some things you can do to help move through the stages of grief and into acceptance. Different strategies work better for different people.
- Change your schedule. If you routinely did something for your four-legged friend, like feeding or walking her at the same time daily, try to do something else during that block of time to keep your mind occupied.
- Move things around. As you walk through the house, you may find that you still look for your pal in her favorite spot. It may help to rearrange things slightly so that you don’t keep looking at her favorite sunny spot on the rug.
- Create a memorial. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but doing something in honor of the departed friend may help you feel better. Try making something using photos of your pet, planting a tree or bush in her memory, or donating money to an animal foundation.
- Write it down. Writing down your feelings can be as simple as composing a letter to your pet or jotting down your feelings and memories in a journal. Include all of the things you wish you could tell her and all of the things that you wish you could have done. This is a great way to let go of any guilt.
If your companion passes during the night or after our regular hours, our emergency clinic can help you arrange for after life care. You can reach them at 281-491-7800.
Body care is respectfully provided by The Bridge Pet Memorial, 713-485-0440. The Bridge offers both
individual cremation with ashes returned to you in an urn of your choice, or communal cremation. All of their services and urn options are available at thebridgepm.com. They are also happy to talk to you directly and answer any questions you may have during this difficult time.
Houston SPCA Pet Loss Support Group 713-869-7722 ext 127
As a final note of closure, our veterinary hospital hopes you can find comfort within the joyous words of the “Rainbow Bridge” poem:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies who has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….