Losing a Pet, regardless of how or when it happened, is devastating. To animal lovers it is like losing a member of your family. Until 10 years ago I did not know what ‘Rainbow Bridge’ was, nor did I truly understand that sometimes letting your animal go is the kindest, although hardest decision to make.
Formerly a breeder and now a pet owner, I am often asked, “How do you deal with the loss?”. I reply, “I don’t know, you just do!”. I know this is not very helpful to them and perhaps when you read this, you will have your own experiences that you can use in the comments to help others.
For me, there is no right or wrong way to ‘deal’ with the loss - just the same as when you lose a member of your family or a friend. We all cope with loss in different ways and this is something I and the rest of the team have learnt especially since the loss of our father. Being one of seven children, I have watched us all dealing with the loss in a lot of different ways and at different times. The one thing you must not do is judge others for how they handle their loss, whether that’s losing a person close to them or an animal, and I think that is the most valuable lesson that anyone will learn.
My earliest huge loss to me was my very first Maine Coon, Basher. Being my first, he always carries a special place in my heart - he also epitomised everything in the breed. I will always remember the day when we collected him because I knew from that day that I wanted to try and breed some ‘mini Bashers’ in the future. He was 12 years old when he passed away. I lost him in my arms and it is a memory I will never forget. I am convinced he waited for me to arrive home from work before he died that day. All I can hope is that he had not been suffering for long whilst I was at work.
Time in many cases is a healer and it was with Basher, but in rare cases it can get harder. It has been three years since I lost Mara (one of my female Maine Coon cats). This year, more than ever, she has fleetingly crossed my mind to the point that occasionally I have shed a tear wondering if the situation had been different, would she still be here now? I remind myself that I had to make a decision and I did. Cats tend to hide their illnesses, often until it is too late. In this case, it was too late. I think I still blame myself for Mara which makes it harder to let go of her loss.
Photo credit: Helmi Flick
The team, as a family, all grew up with animals including dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even chickens! We had them all between my seven brothers and sisters. It taught us love, compassion and a responsibility that has stayed with me into adult life.
Often if the family is together we will reminisce over a loved pet and of course, the funny stories will then begin. That is when you know that time is passing because the conversation is filled with laughter at the fond memory rather than sadness or tears. I have many memories and instances that still make me laugh to this day. Stories of my father trying to bury our pet hamster (Hammy) that he thought had died (because mum had said so), only to find out that as he took it down the garden it began to wake up from its hibernation. Or the time when my sister (Lizanne) and I left two boxer puppies alone in a room for just five minutes. ‘Just five minutes’ was enough time for them to destroy a plant and cover the whole room (including furniture) in moss and mud. I walked in to the room to find both puppies fast asleep on the back of the sofa. As if I did not already suspect them, the moss hanging out of Bruno’s mouth gave the game away!
Some of you reading this will have faced a loss where your pet was poorly for a long period of time and their health slowly deteriorated in front of you to the point where you could see they were suffering badly so you had to make the decision for your animal to be put down by the vet. People have often turned to me in this situation and asked, “How do you know when the right time is to let them go?”. My answer is, “You just know.” Again, not very satisfying but you will know when to let them go. It could be a look that your pet gives you or even a sign, but you will realise it is time to put them first and stop them from suffering because they cannot live their life anywhere near to how they used to live it. No one can make that decision for you, despite the fact you so desperately want someone to tell you that it is ok and that you are making the right decision.
“If you could choose to have time to say goodbye to a pet or for it to die suddenly, with no warning, what would you choose?”. The million-dollar question. Personally, I think that no matter how I lose a pet, it still hurts like hell and my choice would be to never, ever, have to go through the loss of a pet. However, I know that is not option so it is a question I do not have an answer to - perhaps you do?
I am sure my words of wisdom and insight into my experiences of losing pets has not told you anything you did not know. But I did read a piece the other day, which really made me think. It was something along the lines of this, “If you do have to say goodbye do not leave them with strangers because it is too painful for you to bear. Do not leave them with someone they do not know or love. Stay with them as that final act of kindness and let them go to sleep peacefully.”
I had never thought about those final moments with an animal like that. Neither had I considered how it must feel for a pet who is taken in and left to be put to sleep. I have always been there no matter how devastating it is, but for some people it can be too much to bare and some people say that they do not want their last memories to be bad memories - which is completely understandable. I am not sure there is a right or a wrong way to act in these situations.
We are all different and we are human. I know there will be many opinions on the subjects within this blog but as I said above, we must not judge. We must support others when they are dealing with grief and allow them to grieve in whatever way they chose. If someone needs a helping hand then try to be that person. If you cannot help them then there is help in many forums as well as support groups. Please be respectful in the comments.
When I try to put in simple words how to deal with grief and after looking at many words and poems, I found the image below which I think best sums up the emotions of Grief.
My current state of play is that I am still learning to swim.