You answer a phone call and through halting tears, you hear, “My dog just died.”
What do you say? How do you comfort your best friend?
Read on. We’ll share six tips on responding to pet grief with empathy while sidestepping common mistakes.
But first, it’s essential to understand that the death of a furry friend is complicated for many pet owners. So much so that the loss of a beloved canine, for example, can bring up intense emotions like sadness, guilt, anger and feelings of isolation. And for some bereft pet owners, the loss of their beloved fur baby is equal to the death of a close human friend.
Subsequently, when you hear ‘my pet died’, remember your friend is likely experiencing a deep sense of loss and needs your unconditional support.
How to give pet grief support
Here are six things you can do to support your best ‘human’ friend after the death of a pet:
1. Acknowledge their loss
The first step is to validate your friend’s feelings. Let them know that you are sorry for their loss and that you understand how hard it must be for them.
If you’re unsure what to say, it’s okay to say so. Instead, reassure your friend that you are
there for them. However, if you’re not a pet owner and don’t understand the depth of their grief, be mindful to avoid platitudes like “it’s just a dog” or “he was just a pet.”
2. Listen and be present
Your friend likely needs to talk about the passing of their cherished dog and the associated heartbreak. Just be there for them. Listen without judgement and try to offer comfort and support the best you can.
3. Avoid giving unsolicited advice
It’s natural to want to fix things or make your friend feel better, but they often need to be heard. So, listen and let them talk. Try to resist butting in and problem-solving by offering advice or telling them what they should or shouldn’t do. Give your friend the space to ask for your help or advice.
4. Be patient
Pet loss grief doesn’t have a timeline. Be patient with your grieving pet parent friend and allow them time to mourn. Some people need months to recover, while others bounce back within weeks. So don’t put pressure on your friend to “move on” before they’re ready.
5. Do something thoughtful
A small gesture can go a long way to help a pet parent’s grieving process. You could send a card, bring over a meal, or offer to remove and store your friend’s dog’s things until they’re ready to deal with them. Perhaps you could even organise a pet memorial service to help say goodbye and create closure for your friend.
6. Check in regularly
The grieving process can feel like a vast void. Compassion for those grieving a departed pet doesn’t receive the same level of support as when a friend or family member passes. So navigating a pet’s death can be a lonely and emotional time. For this reason, check in with your friend regularly. Trying sending a cheery text every morning, give them a call, or drop by to see how they’re doing. Let your friend know you are thinking of them and offer your support in whatever form they need.
Pet grief and mental health
Psychologists say that losing a pet is difficult, especially if the shared human-canine bond is close.
That’s why the support of friends and family is essential for maintaining good mental health when dealing with pet grief. So too is staying active.
Find ways to encourage your friend to exercise, whether taking a walk around the block or making a gym date. By being encouraging, understanding, patient, and present, you’ll help your friend return to happiness in no time.
Most importantly, don’t forget to share your favourite memories of their dog. Revisiting these moments will help your friend recall good times and draw on positive healing energy from within.
There are many self-help books on dealing with pet loss grief, including our book titled Last Woof. Each page offers heartfelt pictures and uplifting affirmations, a reminder to draw on the energy of positive memories until happiness returns.
Dog letter from heaven
Lastly, if you love being creative with words, why not cheer your friend up with a letter from their newly departed canine?
To write a dog letter from heaven, think of what their moved loved canine would want to say. Make sure the letter is full of love, support, and encouragement to stay active.
We’ve created an example to inspire your creative pet grief healing love.
I’m writing to say that I’m doing great here in pet heaven. The food is good; there’s plenty of it. I don’t even get into trouble for begging at the table.
All the other dogs here are super friendly here. We play together all day and go for long walks. (And you know how much I loved playing fetch and walking the beach with you.)
I want you to know that I miss you and think about you every day. However, when I look down from the Rainbow Bridge, I see that you’re sad.
Please don’t cry for me. Instead, walk every day as if I’m by your side. Take care of yourself as if I’d never departed. In time, your sadness will pass and new happiness will find you.
So please don’t be sad for me. I’m in a beautiful place, and I’m loved.
Yet, take comfort that when it’s your time to journey toward the stars, I’ll be waiting for you on the Rainbow Bridge.
Love you forever,
Your faithful dog in pet heaven
P.S. I send the kids my love and a friendly ‘I’m watching you’ woof to the cat.