Fur balls, Fun and Farewells

blog images - American shorthair cat I am highly allergic to cats but there is something about this green-eyed American Shorthair that makes me disregard my sneezes and pick her up to nozzle and stroke her. The joy she brings to outsiders like me and to her human family is clear when she arches her spine and rubs against your leg. She is playful, yet gentle and loves to sun herself next to the family’s pool outside their Texas home. She is eight years old and her name is Lilly.  Family members have grown accustomed to her being near the back door as they arrive home each day, or as she curls up against them on the sofa at night. However, their routine changes forever, when without warning, Lilly has a seizure and dies on their kitchen floor. The veterinarian tells the grief-stricken family that their beloved cat has died from complications of heart worm. Tears flow as they share their stories and mourn the loss of their pet. 

Their grief reminds me of my first experience with death when I was eight years old and my pet gerbil died.  I also revisit my loss of having to find a new home for our Golden Retriever Cody, after my husband’s death.  My first and last experiences of pet loss were devastating to me then, as the loss of Lilly is to my dear friend Patty now.  We humans form relationships, not only with people, but also with our animal companions. In our humanness, death brings pain when we experience the loss of any relationship.

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has a pet loss hotline and resources for grieving the death of a pet. One of the books listed is one I recommended to Patty entitled, Healing the Pain of Pet Loss, Letters in Memoriam. It is a rich treasury of letters sent to author Kymberly Smith in response to her request for stories from people who had lost an animal. Realizing that the best advice comes from those who have lived through the experience, this book has letters from those whose pet died of natural or accidental causes, euthanasia, loss from disappearance, or from forced separation.

Reading the book and trying to support my friends who have had pets die, I recognize that many of us become insensitive to people who have recently lost their companions.  We often downplay their pain, feeling as if our human loss of life is so much more significant.  For many of us, the death of a pet is not comparable to the loss we have felt when losing a loved one; however, we must recognize the deeply rooted bond that many of us have with our animals.  Think about the death of a service dog to a blind person or beloved pet who has lived with an isolated elderly person.  These deaths and all of our pet’s deaths are significant and life altering, and grief is a normal part of the process.  Accompanying others on their journey is important and just as significant as the times in which they grieve a family member or friend.

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2 Responses to Fur balls, Fun and Farewells

  1. mrsmunger says:

    Kath: Thank you for addressing this unique form of grief. As someone who has adopted several dogs over the course of my lifetime, all of which are no longer here, I can tell you that each one of their deaths was a very real, deep pain that I still feel in my heart. They were all extraordinary, true-blue companions that stood by me during some very difficult and joyful times in my life. I considered them members of my family. Pets love you unconditionally. You can tell them anything in confidence. They don’t make fun of you or laugh when they see your naked, frumpy body (or at least they’re courteous enough to wait until you’ve left the room to laugh). You can have the worst day of your life, but holding and nuzzling your pet and receiving a lick or playful nip in return is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

    Yes, it can be devastating to lose a pet, but to have been the recipient of their love and devotion for however many years they gave you by far outweighs the sadness. My life has been so much richer because of the many dogs that wove their way into my heart and home.

    I would like to recommend a wonderful book to those who are grieving the loss of their pet, whether it has been recent or one that happened in the past but continues to tug at their heart. I came across it a number of years ago when I lost one of my dogs very unexpectedly and found myself experiencing a tremendous amount of grief. The name of the book is “Grieving the Death of a Pet” by Betty J. Carmack. It has proved to be a wonderful source of comfort to me as more special friends have come into my life and passed on.

    “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
    –Anatole France, 1844-1924

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