The reality of having a pet is that we will outlive most of them.
By Kellie Scott
The grief when an animal dies can feel like losing a friend or family member to many of us, explains Annie Cantwell-Bartl, a psychologist specialising in grief.
“For some people it can be absolutely profound.”
Veterinarian Anne Fawcett, who has a special interest in end-of-life decision-making, says often the anticipatory grief can be worse than the experience of when the animal dies.
When you have some warning that your pet is nearing the end of their life — for example, when your pet is old or terminally ill — there are some things you can do to emotionally prepare for their death that can make the pain more manageable.
Our love for pets and disenfranchised grief
My mum Joanne Scott is a big animal lover and has given a home to many rescues over the years.
She’s had to say goodbye to dozens of pets including horses, dogs, cats, cows, guinea pigs and chickens — most of which were my family too.
A loss that stands out the most for her is horse Razie, who she had for 22 years.
“I was just so close to him. He was like my right arm.
“He understood me, I understood him. I just loved him dearly and he was a pony that was very loving.”
She had to judge the right time to euthanase Razie when his cancer was causing him too much pain.
“You feel like you’ve lost a friend.”
Dr Cantwell-Bartl says often the grief is not recognised as valid by the person themselves or others around them which can make it harder to work through. This is known as disenfranchised grief.
“There’s not those same social supports and rituals like when a person dies.
“People can feel embarrassed and guilty that they are so distraught.”
Dr Fawcett says she’s lucky to be surrounded by people who “get” the human-animal bond.
“As a companion animal veterinarian, I see people who are very bonded to their animals.
“There are often mutual tales of rescue — a stray cat who kept a person going when their spouse died of cancer; a dog that someone rescued from a pound who gave them a reason to get out of bed during a period of mental illness.”
She says while there is still room to improve, society is getting better at understanding pet grief. For example, she has clients whose bosses have granted them bereavement leave.
Ways to emotionally prepare for their death
Spend time together
Making the most of the time you have left with your pet can start the grieving process in a way you have control over, says Dr Cantwell-Bartl.
“You can spend time with them, stroke them, delight with them, and feel the sadness.”
Find a vet you are comfortable with and talk to them
Finding a vet you feel is understanding and supportive is important. There are vets who specialise in palliative care and can offer options like euthanasing at home.
Dr Fawcett says to talk openly about your concerns and the pet’s quality of life.
If you are considering euthanasia, make plans with them.
“Where will it happen? Who would you like to be present? What are the options regarding the animal’s remains; for example, burial, private cremation? If cremated, what sort of vessel do you want to keep the remains in? What are the costs you need to expect?” are some questions to consider, Dr Fawcett says.
If you do proceed with euthanasia, know it is normal to question if you did the right thing.
“That doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing,” Dr Fawcett says.
Joanne says she still struggles with some of her decisions.
“One horse I put down still haunts me. Even though everyone says you did the right thing, I still think sometimes, ‘Did I do all I possibly could?'”
Talk to people who understand
Seek out people who get what you are going through, Dr Cantwell-Bartl says.
“Find those people who can put their arms around you and walk by your side.
If you are struggling to find the support you need, consider professional counselling.
Make them comfortable and do your best
Joanne says knowing you’re doing your best by your pet can help you can have some closure.
“Making them as comfortable as possible in the time they have left shows that you love them.
“Then you know you’ve done all you could.”
Dr Fawcett agrees and says doing our best by our animals includes not prolonging suffering.
“That can mean letting them go when it is in their interests.”
Know that it’s OK to grieve
Dr Cantwell-Bartl says feeling like you should “just get on with things” can shut down your grief.
Give yourself permission to feel the hard emotions and go through the processes of grieving.
Words of comfort
Knowing she has given an animal the best life possible is what helps Joanne prepare to say goodbye.
“That is a wonderful thing because there are too many animals that don’t have a good life.
“I always look back and think about some of the kittens we only had for nine months, and a fantastic nine months is better than a shitty five years.”
Dr Fawcett says it’s important to be kind to yourself, no matter how you are feeling.
“For people who experience profound anticipatory grief, the death of an animal can be a relief.
“These owners can feel guilty for not grieving as much as they feel they should. I think the key is to be kind to yourself.”
She says the grief of losing her own animals has left a pain in her chest, but she has some peace knowing she gave them a good life.
“As one of my clients said to me, grief is the tax you pay for love — but it’s a tax worth paying.”
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!