How to say Goodbye: a step by step guide to coping with the loss of a beloved pet

Losing a beloved pet can be a devastating emotional experience. With the average pet lifespan being 10-15 years, these four-legged friends spend quite a pet of their life with you making memories, making friends and helping you through some of your roughest times.

For those of you going through grief after losing a pet, here are some helpful tips on how to cope. Now keep in mind, grief is not necessarily a linear process for everyone. Each step may take more or less time for you or your loved ones to go through, and that is completely normal.

Step 1: Preparing for loss

“The time” comes differently for each animal. Whether it be age, an illness or a traumatic accident, at some point every pet owner will have to come to terms that their pet is not immortal.

Deciding whether or not to euthanize can be one of the hardest decisions. It’s best to discuss your options with your veterinarian beforehand and prepare yourself for a whirlwind of emotions to come, no matter your decision.

Step 2: Right before death

Spend the day with your pet doing some of their favorite things. Be there to comfort them and show them how much they mean to you.

Consider taking a photograph or stamping their paw print, these can be a cherished momento to keep with you after they pass to remember them by.

Step 3: Allow yourself to be upset

Bottling up your emotions is not healthy. Reach out to friends and family in this time for comfort. Forget about any mumbo jumbo about them being “just a pet”. The bond that humans share with pets is unconditional and very special in a way that many human relationships are not. Allow yourself to cry and not feel guilty.

Clarissa Rodriguez, owner of 3-year-old German Shepherd, Mya Marie, who passed earlier this month says, “Losing your baby is not easy. I’m personally still trying to find ways to cope, I just take it day by day. Just know that it’s okay to cry.”

Step 4: Remember your pet

Even though it hurts at first, don’t try to go on pretending that you never had a pet. Remembering your cherished memories is the only healthy path to closure. Saving photos, momentos, and even collars or toys can have a comforting reminder that your pet is still with you in memory.

“Don’t feel like you need to get rid of anything, heck, it been two weeks and I’m still carrying Mya’s favorite toy in my purse.” Rodriguez says, “But most importantly just remember each and every memory you had with your pet. Those are what truly keep you going when times get hard.”

Step 5: Go on with life

Although this step can be very difficult and take different amounts of time for each person, it is essential to continue on with your life. Reconnect with your friends and family and spend time doing things that make you happy.

Don’t shut yourself off or allow yourself to continue to be upset to a point that it effects your well-being. If you find that your day-to-day life is being interrupted by chronic depression over your loss, it’s best to seek a professional to help you continue through the your grieving process.

Step 6: Consider adopting a new pet

It can be hard getting past the guilt that you are “replacing” your pet. However no two animals are alike, they all have distinct personalities. Each pet will always have a special place in your heart, no need to feel guilty. Always remember that your pet will always be with you in memory and nothing can take that away.

According to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, over 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters each year,and almost 2.7 million never find a forever home. Adopting a new pet gives the chance to better another animal’s life and the time caring for a new pet may be just what you need to take your mind of off things.

 

Overall, loosing a pet can be one of the most difficult things pet owners have to go through. There are several steps that you must take in order to cope and regain your normal life again. Hopefully with these tips, you found some advice to help the next time you or a friend finds themselves grieving for a pet.

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Quiz: Are you ready to be a Pet Parent?

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5-year-old Cockapoo, Macy, enjoying some time outdoors. ( Photo by Cassidy Conrad)

Thinking about becoming a pet owner?  Take this quiz to see how ready you really are, and get some helpful suggestions about pet parenthood. Get your virtual pens ready!

 

Question 1: On average, much time do you spend at home?

A: Most of the day OR live with others who can be there when you are not

B: At least half of the day whenever school or work is over

C: A few hours before and a few hours after going to sleep

D: Sometimes stay out late/ overnight without coming home OR travel frequently throughout the year

Different pets require different amounts of attention and daily care. Before deciding what pet to buy it is important to consider your daily schedule, activity level, and how much time you are willing to provide to tending to the needs of your pet.

Question 2: What kind of living space do you have?

A: In a house with plenty of outdoor space

B: An apartment with some outdoor grassy spaces

C: An apartment downtown or have no outdoor space

D: On campus or are not allowed to have pets 

Different pets and breeds handle space differently. Larger pets, or those with more energy, require more space to exercise and feel comfortable in their surroundings. Not having enough space may cause them stress that may lead them to misbehave or chew up valuables to help themselves cope. Other pets are content living in small areas and have no problems in small spaces, they may even prefer it, because it provides a sense of safety.

Question 3: Who else is living with you?

A: Others who are ready to take care of a pet with you, and you already have a pet that is friendly to other animals

B: Others who are ready and prepared to take care of a pet with you. No current pets.

C: Others who won’t mind having a pet OR live on your own

D: Others who have allergies to certain pets OR pets who don’t get along with other animals well

Your living arrangements is one of the most important factors you must consider beforehand to ensure a positive transition into pet parenthood. Having others there to support you and your pet if needed is ideal. If your housemates do not enjoy pets or are allergic, it could cause problems with their comfort and cause hostility towards you and your pet. It is equally important to consider, if applicable, how your existing pets handle being around other animals. Some can be hostile and attack newer animals and seriously hurt them, so if your pet suffers from extreme “only child syndrome” it’s probably not in anyone’s best interests to introduce a new pet.

Question 4: How much money do you have saved up for possible expenses for your pet?

A:  Over $1000 in a savings/ credit account 

B: Over $500

C: Over $250

D: Less than $250 

Pets are not only time-consuming and require space; they are expensive! According to the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals  (SSPCA) the estimated cost for a dog is $6,960 and $7,460 for cats. Each year the average pet owner will spend around $1,000 a year on their pet. This accounts for food, vet bills, grooming, vaccinations, licensing and household items such as litter boxes or kennels.

Question 5: How long have you been considering adopting a new pet?

A: A few months AND have previous pet ownership experience

B: Over a month AND have done research on animals and places to adopt

C: A few weeks after seeing a friend enjoying their new pet

D: On a whim while petting a cute animal at a shelter and looking into their  cute little eyes.

Pet ownership should never be on an impulse. It is easy to fall in love with a cute fluffy animal and want to take it home without really considering all of the aspects, good and bad, that go into this lifelong decision. It is not fair to the animal if they are neglected, abandoned or abused because of an impulse decision that wasn’t considered fully.

Now tally up your answers.
Mostly A’s : You are fully prepared to own a new pet.

You have the finances, space, support, knowledge, and time to commit to pet. If you are looking for an energetic friend, try athletic breeds of dogs such as: Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Spaniels, Russell Terriers and Huskies.

Mostly B’s: You are ready to adjust to a new pet.

You have almost everything your furry friend could need. Depending on your answers you may just need to adjust to accommodate them. Some moderate activity breeds of cats and dogs include: Abyssinians, American Shorthairs, Siberians, Chihuahuas, Bulldogs, Shar-Peis, Dachshunds and Pomeranians.

Mostly C’s: You might be ready to own a pet.

Owning a high-maintenance pet is definitely not going to fit into your lifestyle without some major adjustments. Consider owning a low maintenance animal such as a cat that doesn’t need to be walked, let outside or have specific feeding times. Some great low-maintenence breeds of cats include: Persians, British Shorthairs, Ragdolls, Russian Blues and Scottish Folds.

Mostly D’s: You should reconsider owning a pet.

Your lifestyle does not allow you to have the time, space, finances or living arrangements that allow for healthy pet ownership. Not everyone is meant to be a pet parent, but if you are really wanting to feel like a pet owner there are some great options to get you started such as: rodents, reptiles, fish, visiting a friend’s pet or playing virtual pet games on your phone.

Sources: Purina: Dog Breed Selector, Purina: Cat Breeds and Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Adoption Article :”Things to Consider Before Getting a Pet”

 

INFOGRAPHIC: Who’s Top Dog?: A closer look at “Man’s Best Friend”

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This is an infographic  about dogs that I designed for an assignment in Media Storytelling II at UNO. I made a series of dog-related news stories, tips and information for my assignments that semester. Check them out here. I had a lot of fun making these and  am proud of how they turned out.

For this design and my collection of dog- related projects, my goal was to motivate millennials to learn more about dogs and pet ownership. I stuck to a modern and youthful feel by mixing bright colors and fun shapes with a thick sans serif typeface to unify the piece. I chose a blue that is eye catching, but also has a sort of calming effect that other bright colors don’t do as well. I chose to stick to the blue and neutral color scheme and add  in a cool- tone gray to also give a calming effect to the eye.

Omaha Pets are “One of the Family”

The rise of pet owners who consider themselves more as a “pet parent” rather than owner is being seen across America, but especially in Omaha. This trend has allowed  locally owned “Pet Specialty” shops like Three Dog Bakery & Spaw, The Green Spot, Wag,  Long Dog Fat Cat and others to thrive in this area. These shops offer designer foods, treats, gear and even spa services like painting their pet’s nails.

A new survey commissioned by Milo’s Kitchen Brand dog treats, reveals that 81 percent of Americans consider their dogs to be equal members of the family. Of those, 77 percent own up to talking about their pups as if they are a human family member.

Pets have become such an important part of the family dynamic that a majority consider their pets just as important as their actual children. The Milo’s Kitchen survey shows that 58 percent of pet owners are comfortable using nick names for themselves like “Mommy” and “Daddy” when talking about themselves in reference to their pets.

This idea of pet parenthood is supported by the fact that 77 percent of pet owners celebrate their pets birthdays as they would a human friend, and 10 percent of pet owners admit to celebrating Mother’s and Father Day with their pets. Pets have become so welcome in the family that many pet owners often share mealtimes with their pet.

Sadie Denker, UNO Student and owner of a 1-year-old Calico cat named Stella, says,”My cat is definitely considered one of the family. We actually have a sixth chair set up in the dining room just for Stella to sit in while we all eat diner. She is very spoiled. Whatever Stella wants, she gets.”

But what makes pets so special? For most people it is the companionship and closeness they feel to their family. Pets add that extra something to a family’s dynamic and can often bring the family together in the most needed of times.

Morgan Parriott, UNO Student and owner of a 3-year-old Boxer named Winston, and a 3-year-old Miniature Poodle named Finnley, says, “My dogs definitely bring the family closer, they’re always there for us when we need them. Even when I was younger and I had to move around from school to school, having my dogs always be that unchanging variable was really comforting. I can’t imagine not having a dog at home.”

Even when families live in separate homes, having get-togethers with their pets can be an impactful bonding experience. Andrea Labenz, UNO student and owner of an 8-month-old Australian Shepherd named Jax, says that her and her sisters, Lexi and Ashley, all bond over having play dates with their dogs.

“We really bond over spoiling our pets,” Labenz says. “In fact for my sister’s wedding we are all having our dogs taken to a pet spa to get groomed just like us. It’s a really nice one too, they have a doggie swimming pool and tvs for them, we really love any opportunity that we get to pamper our pets. Every time I go to the pet section of a store I always bring home a little toy for Jax.”

While pets don’t quite need the same attention as children, they can definitely be a handful. Owning a pet presents a lot of responsibilities and allows owners to learn a lot of important life skills.

“Since living on my own with two dogs I have learned a lot about responsibility,” Parriott says. “They have really taught me time management skills and commitment. I always have to make sure I have time to be at home with them and take care of their needs. It can be a lot of work at times, but it’s definitely worth it.”

“Jax can really be a lot to handle sometimes,” Labenz says. “He’s kind of like a furry kid but it’s not so bad because he’s so sweet. Every time I’m stressed he knows just how to bring my spirits up again, he is so human-like I don’t know how to explain it.”

Even with all the hard work that it takes to keep up with pets, almost all pet owners will say that it’s worth it. Pets share an unspoken bond and sense of loyalty that is unmatched. Maybe there really is a reason behind the saying “Man’s Best Friend”.