How to Cope With Losing a Pet
The hardest part of being a pet owner is undoubtedly the moment when we have to say our goodbyes. The relationships that we craft with our beloved pets are unlike any other: our pets love us wholly, unequivocally, and they have an uncanny ability to see us beyond all our mistakes, our quirks, our challenges… they’re there throughout every joy, every heartache, and everything in between. Pets are the epitome of pure, selfless, and unconditional love.
When the time comes that we must finally part ways, it can be devastating, like losing a family member or a part of ourselves. When a pet becomes a significant part of our routine, our happiness, our comfort, it can feel hopeless and bizarre when we are forced to forge on without them, and it’s unfortunate that they can’t live alongside us until our final days. In this blog, I will share a personal story of pet grief and how I’ve managed to cope with my loss in hopes that it will guide you positively throughout your own experiences of pet grief.
While people don’t enjoy admitting to favoritism, I think that many of us pet owners and lovers can attest to a time when we’ve had a particularly exceptional relationship with a particularly special animal. I’ve been fortunate to have had a few of those relationships with various pets throughout my years, but this story is focused on my dog, Banjo. Banjo was my family dog, and we lost him unexpectedly this past November.
Banjo was only five years old when he passed, but in those five short years, he managed to ingrain himself fully into my family, and we all cherished him deeply and appreciated him as one of us.
Banjo was an exceptional dog. He was an Australian Shepherd and smart as could be. In fact, the ways in which he emoted and interacted with us were almost human. He was naturally attuned to our emotions, and he had a vast emotional spectrum all of his own: if he was upset with you, you might be met with a sour side eye, but when you were petting him, just having a moment, he would stare straight into your soul and overflow you with the utmost love. He had the sweetest eyes, and his affectionate gaze is seared into my memory as one of my favorite things about him:
Banjo and my dad quickly became two peas in a pod. Sometimes you’d think that Banjo was my dad’s only and favorite child with the way he fed him gourmet meals each night, shared his snacks with him, rolled around with him, and took him everywhere he went. If Banjo wasn’t invited, there was a good chance my dad wouldn’t join. Banjo was one of us, and we couldn’t leave him behind while we all had fun together… that would be outrageous!
One of the first times my dad held Banjo
Banjo went on long hikes every day. He was so accustomed to walking and hiking that he wouldn’t even poop in a yard, you had to take him out and walk him. He was a very smart dog, and I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing (it’s a brilliant technique to get outside, I must admit).
My dad also arranged puppy play dates for Banjo every week. He met some folks at a dog park when Banjo was a puppy, and they ultimately became dog park renegades, abandoning the park for some hiking adventures elsewhere where they could enjoy a healthy dose of good company, tail wagging, and exercise. It’s incredible the relationships you can develop when you have a dog, and my dad and Banjo hiked with the same handful of individuals and their dogs every week for years.
My dad was visiting my aunt in South Carolina this year for Thanksgiving when Banjo passed away. She lives in a gated community, a cul-de-sac, and they were walking around there with Banjo unleashed when he spotted some deer and continued chasing them. He managed to navigate a fence somehow and yet another one at the bottom of the hill. He ran straight into a busy road and was hit and killed that way. It was absolutely devastating. We found some solace in knowing that Banjo died doing something he loved, however, and he wasn’t in pain for very long.
We had Banjo frozen at a veterinary hospital, and then my dad and I drove his body all the way back to Pittsburgh to bury him in our yard. My brother joined us for the burial, and some individuals who weren’t able to be there physically were present via facetime. We all said some words honoring Banjo and we cried together. It felt necessary to lay Banjo to rest in the yard that he so valiantly protected, in his yard, at our home. It gave us closure saying goodbye to him in such a ceremonious way. He was an integral part of our family, and he deserved to be put to rest as such.
There were a number of things that I did following Banjo’s passing that helped me cope with his loss, and I will outline some of those as suggestions below:
Hold a ceremony:
Whether your pet passes naturally or needs to be put down, share some words about them to assist in gaining closure. Bury your dog in your yard or have them cremated. Scatter their ashes in their favorite place or hang onto them to keep them near to you always.
Keep something special of theirs:
Get an imprint of their paws, keep a lock of their fur, hang onto their collar, or make their dog tags into jewelry that you can wear. My partner has these sorts of memorabilia to remember his favorite pet by that passed away. When he reminisces about his pup Maya, he often brings out the memorabilia to make her feel closer to him.
Have something made:
When Banjo passed away, I wanted to have a necklace made to commemorate him. I searched far and wide for a company that would be willing to create what I had in mind, and I ultimately came across GLDN. They were amazing to work with and allowed me to create a custom, hand-stamped pendant made to my desired specifications:
Alternatively, you could opt to get a tattoo to memorialize your pets or have a painting or drawing made of them.
Make a photo album/hang pictures:
After Banjo passed away, my family members and I shared our pictures and videos of Banjo with one another as a way to keep his spirit alive and share our favorite memories of him. I also hope to compile those pictures into an album for us to all have. You can have the pictures printed and put into an album, or you could make them into a photo book instead. These are both really easy to create online and can be inexpensive depending on who you choose to create them.
You could also opt to hang pictures around your house of your pet to stimulate sweet memories.
The hardest part of being a pet owner is undoubtedly the moment when we have to say our goodbyes. While grief ebbs and flows, the memories that create grief are with us forever, as is the happiness that those memories work to permeate us with. Sadly, my story of pet grief is not unique to me, but I think all of us who share in it can agree that the sorrow of losing a beloved pet is well worth the lasting joy they leave us with.