Stages of grief
“It has long been acknowledged that the grief stages experienced when a person suffers the death of a pet are identical to those of human loss,” says Elmien Butler, a counselling psychologist in Gauteng.
Elmien explains the five stages:
- Denial – nature’s way of protecting us from problems that overwhelm us, when we least feel able to cope with them.
- Anger – you are angry about your loss, angry with a higher power or even your pet. People around you may see your anger as a step backwards.
- Bargaining – with God, a higher being or the universe for a return of the pet (or before, during the pet’s illness). This is also the time when feelings of guilt surface – “What if?”, “If only!”
- Depression – common after a major loss. Be honest with your feelings and tell others about it. People don’t always know what an animal means to an individual.
- Acceptance – finally accepting that the pet is gone and beginning to invest energy into life again.
Coping with the loss
Consider your child’s feelings if the dog was a family pet. Kids may experience grief differently, but they do grieve. “Children need support and guidance to understand their loss, to mourn that loss, and to find ways to remember and memorialise their deceased loved one or pet,” says Elmien.
Everyone can benefit from saying goodbye. This can take many forms – from holding a small memorial service and remembering your dog’s life, or cremating your pet and sprinkling the ashes in a special place. You can also put up a remembrance plaque in your garden or plant a remembrance tree. A special page in the family scrapbook can also help to serve as a memory.
Our other pets can suffer when a canine companion passes. Never rush out to replace the companion if you aren’t yet emotionally ready to commit to another dog. Elmien says that in most cases one should mourn the old pet first and wait until you are emotionally ready to open your heart again. “Retired people may find it hardest to adjust to life without a pet,” she cautions. “If taking care of an animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth as well as companionship, you may want to consider getting another pet at an earlier stage.”
A new dog
When you are ready to move forward, the next phase can be an exciting one as you decide on a new special friend. Take your time. When the time is right (and only you will know you’re ready) make contact with some breeders.
Get everyone in the family involved in the decision of choosing a new pet. Children sometimes think they are being disloyal by welcoming a new pet into the home after the death of another animal. Being part of the process can help them accept the newcomer. Your new companion doesn’t have to be a puppy. You may want to give an adult dog a new home. Consider this carefully and visit a few rescue shelters before you make your choice.
When your other dog mourns
Other dogs can also suffer from the death of his companion, or he may be tuned in to your own feelings of loss and sadness.
Signs of grief
- Whimpering and howling.
- Lethargy or withdrawing from the family.
- Separation anxiety (he’ll want to stay with you).
- Not eating and drinking.
- Disinterest in activities he once loved.
What to do
- Give him the other dog’s blanket.
- Try to keep the household routines, especially mealtimes, as normal as possible.
- Spend more time with your dog and give him lots of love. Extra walks or trips to the park are a great comfort.
- Don’t leave your dog to hide away in his basket; encourage him to exercise. Use treats if you have to. Take up a new sport or make a set 20-minute playtime in the garden before dinner.
- If you are concerned about your dog, take him to the vet for a check-up.
If your dog is getting on in years, consider a young companion. This may be a rescue dog or a puppy and is a personal choice. Research shows that older dogs often get a new lease on life with a youngster in the home. You’ll also be able to bond with the new dog and enjoy them together.
Text: Gina Hartoog