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Good Grief | Honoring Our Pets

With our dog moving through her senior years, I can't help but find myself distracted at times by thoughts of life without her. She is our first dog together, and my first dog that I've had as an adult. She is such a big presence in our home that I miss her when she chooses to stay in another room to nap. Waiting in line at the local ATM, it isn't unusual for a familiar face ask, "Where's Cleo? How is she doing today?"

Back in September, after attending a senior dog seminar at the San Francisco SPCA, I decided to join in the monthly Pet Loss Support Group also held at the SF SPCA. The monthly sessions are free and Dr. Betty Carmack, RN, Ed.D. is there as a grief counselor. She spoke at the seminar and had mentioned "anticipatory grief" in association with pet loss. I hadn't thought of my recent feelings about Cleo like that before, but after speaking with her, I am relieved that they are normal and not an indication that I'm already a wreck.

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Good grief. The best part of the pet loss group for me was the incredible welcome you are wrapped in. I'm so glad I went. There were about ten of us strangers, but we immediately all had a love for our pets in common. We all wanted to honor our pets, and move past any feeling of regret or guilt. It was such a wonderful experience, and actually helped me refocus on the time I have with my dog now, away from my fear over her eventual passing and what that will be like.

Yesterday friends had to euthanize their beloved dog, and it got me thinking about how I would want that experience to be with Cleo. It is a personal and individual experience, but the decisions around it are worth thinking about ahead of time. As they recommend in the senior seminar, it is important to begin creating a support network before you need it, as well as, discussing how you want to honor your pet when the time comes.

None of this is easy, but minimizing regret and guilt are what Dr Carmack says is the key to moving through the grief process.  If you have a senior dog yourself, or are going through the grief process, here are nine ways to help honor your pet:

  • Conduct a memorial or burial ceremony.
  • Put a bench near the resting place if you buried your pet, or sponsor a memorial bench in your neighborhood.
  • If you chose cremation, place the ashes in a container that has personal significance somewhere quiet in your home.
  • Considering receiving some or all of the cremated ashes, and scattering them into the waves at your pet's favorite beach.
  • Seek support from family, friends or people who have gone through similar loss, or find a local pet grief support group.
  • Plant a tree or flower garden to honor your pet.
  • Write a poem or letter to her and put it in a special place.
  • Place some of her fur/hair in a locket you can wear.
  • In your pet's name, donate their bedding, toys, leash, collar, even leftover food and medication to a local shelter or humane society.

Do you have a special way that you've honored your pet? Please share in the comments. 


For more information:

Senior Scholars Training Program at the SF SPCA offers a fun 4-week course for learning ways to physically and mentally stimulate and soothe an aging best friend’s body and mind.

Pet Loss Support at the SF SPCA

"Grieving the Death of a Pet" by Betty J. Carmack, RN, Ed.D

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