The loss of a pet is something almost everyone will experience, but it’s also a topic we don’t like to talk about. Pet loss is uncomfortable and undefined. Since a beloved pet is not technically a human, the unspoken rule is that we should get over our grief within a few months — or even weeks.
Any pet lover who has been through this difficult time knows quite the opposite is true. Just like losing a family member, it can take years or even a lifetime to get over the loss of a pet. It’s possible you may never recover from the loss of your animal companion and that’s OK too.
I remember feeling stunned for weeks when Sam, our family beagle, was hit by a car when I was in elementary school. When I had to give my little terrier Killer away to a better home because my new apartment wouldn’t accept pets, I cried like a baby. In retrospect, I wish I had done something to help myself process the grief instead of pretending everything was OK. It would have made the transition much easier.
“Our relationships with pets run way deeper than non-pet owners may understand. If you’ve had a long-term pet and that pet dies, the mourning process is not different from the ones you have when people in your life die. Commemoration of a pet’s death — or the late life of a pet — is a great way to heal yourself and honor your pet’s life,” says April Masini, relationship expert of AskApril.com.
It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in this. These pet memorial ideas from fellow pet lovers may make it easier to cope with your loss.
There’s nothing more beautiful than giving to a good cause in your pet’s memory. Masini suggests donating to an animal shelter, or better yet, a no-kill shelter. She explains the significance of such a gift: “Giving money to these organizations in honor of your deceased pet is a great way to support the lives of other pets.”
If you’re short on funds, you can still donate another valuable resource: your time. Most animal shelters have foster programs that offer temporary support for animals prior to adoption, providing you with the best of both worlds — a chance to remember your beloved pet as you help an animal in need. Masini adds, “This is only for those of you who have the time and energy to take care of baby kittens or animals in the ‘adoption’ system. You may get high-needs pets that have been in and out of homes or pets that need round-the-clock feeding, medication and care. This is a way to focus on the living in the absence of your pet. It’s also a great way to give back.”
As many pet lovers insist, pets are people too, and they deserve the same respect you would give any loved one at a funeral. Mary Dell Harrington says that when two of her precious labs passed away, her family found comfort in mounting two backyard headstones in remembrance of each dog. (Orvis, $69)
Image: Peaceful Pets Aquamation
What better way to remember a furry friend than by keeping it close to your heart? Dog nose necklace charms are especially popular after pet loss because they are so unique — each charm is made with a personalized print of a dog’s (or cat’s) nose cast in silver or gold, similar to a fingerprint. Peaceful Pets Aquamation, a company founded by Jerry Shevick after the death of his own dog, provides several commemorative pet jewelry options, including charms engraved with a pet’s name, and nose and paw print charms, available for deceased or living pets.
Image: Consuelo Okdie
Artist Consuelo Okdie has a soft spot in her heart for grieving pet owners — she’s made a career out of painting memorial portraits for people who have lost their pets. While there are a number of artists who provide specialty portraits like this, Okdie’s work is distinct. “My portraits are very different because the pets are portrayed in brilliant rainbow colors,” she explains.
I can think of nothing more comforting than cuddling up with a warm, fuzzy quilt that reminds you of your missed pet every night as you go to sleep. Dr. Judy Morgan, holistic veterinarian, shares how she coped with the loss of Madison, a 6-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel that died from lymphoma in her care. “[You can] have a quilt made with the name of the pet embroidered on it. Photos of the pet could have been used in the making of the quilt, but we did not do that. [Our quilt] is made with material scraps that have paw prints, bones, dogs, hearts, etc., and I think of Madison every time I wrap myself in the quilt.” (Etsy, $350)
Classic and timeless, there’s something to be said for keeping your pet’s ashes displayed in your house. Shawn Simons, founder and current headmistress of Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats, a Los Angeles-based and 100 percent feral cat rescue, explains how to make a standard pet cremation urn more significant. “If you are choosing to have your pet cremated and the ashes returned to you, I say forgo any off-the-rack urn. Instead, build or decorate a container that expresses the character of your pet. For example, if your cat loved chasing water bottle caps, I would think they would make a perfect decoration for an urn.”
Thinking back to the loss of my dog Sam as a kid, this is one of my favorite ideas on the list. Simons recommends an interactive activity to help kids comprehend a major loss, like that of a family pet. “Creating a memory scrapbook is a wonderful way for the whole family to share memories of their beloved pet. While you can choose your favorite photos to include, you should also include a good story or two. Have your children illustrate the story. You can also include items like their collars, favorite toys or a swatch from their bed,” she says. (Etsy, $16)
8. Spiritual ceremony
There are a few different ways to mark the end of a pet’s life in a special ceremony. If you’re religious, you and your loved ones can say a prayer as you scatter your pet’s ashes in a favorite place, like a hiking trail or park. A tree planting ceremony for a pet is especially appealing to me because it gives me hope — maybe something good can come out of a tragedy.
Dr. Morgan provides a third option for those interested in a spiritual commemoration of a pet’s passing: opening a pet’s collar, either in a ceremony or as a private good-bye. “We have a peg rack just inside our entry door. We hang collars with name tags from pets that have passed on the peg rack. An animal communicator told me you need to open the collars to allow the pet’s spirit to run free, so they all hang straight, not closed,” she explains.
9. Time capsule
Putting together a time capsule is another family-friendly way to allow young children to process pet loss and grief. Marcie L. Norton of The Original Time Capsule Co., which offers “any occasion” DIY time capsules for pet memorial, says, “Unlike an urn, the time capsule is meant to store your pet’s favorite toys, collar, videos, photos or other mementos from special trips you have had together around the world.”
She adds, “In 20 years, after the hardest part of grief is over, if the family wants to, they can reopen their pet’s time capsule (like on their dog’s future birthday) and reminisce about what life was like when they had their loved dog. This is not recommended for everyone — however, for many families, it is a great celebration that their dog is in a better place.” (TimeCapsule, $70)