It may be the way in which our animals love us that makes their deaths so difficult to bear. Pets become beloved companions, valued family members, and they love us unconditionally. They depend on us, don’t criticize us and are deeply loyal. The loss of a pet can be devastating for its owner — particularly if the owner is required to make the difficult decision to euthanize the devoted friend.
This decision can become complicated with other emotional issues if you’re required to choose when to euthanize an animal that was once the pet of a loved one who has died. You may see the pet as an extension of that person, or the decision to euthanize as a betrayal of your pledge to care for the animal after its owner had died.
When it comes to euthanasia, allow a veterinarian to help you make the decision. He or she will be able to give you an honest, professional assessment, without the emotional burden that you bear. Other animal lovers understand the grief a bereaved pet owner experiences, but that empathy can’t alleviate the emotional suffering.
Allow yourself your grief. Don’t try to dismiss or suppress your feelings; your pet was an enormously important part of your life and you should take the time to deal with the loss. If you have other animals, they will grieve too. Animals form strong attachments and have an innate understanding of life’s cycles. It may be the kindest thing you can do to let your other pets see their companion once he or she has died. Being able to see and smell the dead body will tell them what has happened. Otherwise, if you take an ailing pet to the vet to be euthanized, all his buddies know is that he went out the door and never came back. They will be distressed, confused and will search for him, perhaps for weeks or even longer.
You can either bring the dead body home, which may be very difficult for you, or you might ask the vet to make a house call to euthanize the sick animal. If your pet dies peacefully at home, in familiar surroundings, then the other animals can see him after death. The vet can take the body away when you’re ready, or the vet can leave and you can ask a friend to help you with the necessary practicalities.
If you have sufficient property, you may want to bury your pet on your own land. However, you must check with your city’s by laws to know if it’s legal to do so. You may prefer to have your pet cremated and then scatter his ashes at a favorite place. Your veterinarian or local humane society may be able to help you with burial options.
Don’t try to get rid of all the reminders of your companion right away. Instead, move slowly to reorganize your life. Keep photos and such things as a dog’s collar and food dish. You may be very glad you kept them months later when your grief has subsided and the memory is not quite so painful. Give yourself some time; you know how much your pet meant to you. It’s unrealistic to expect that the loss of its companionship will be easy. Some human/animal relationships are very intense. If you find your grief is overwhelming you, or if it’s having a serious impact on your life and work, a grief counselor may be able to help you. Your veterinarian may know of a counselor who works with bereaved pet owners.