It's one of the most gut-wrenching things I've had to deal with in recent years. How to deal with the loss of a pet. I'm going to approach this topic from two perspectives because you might be considering how you or someone you love is going to deal with the loss of a pet.  

From a parenting perspective, there are lots of great reasons to have a pet in the first place. Some of those would include that they tend to give us examples of unconditional love and forgiveness. I heard a joke recently about how to tell who truly loves you? You put your spouse and your dog in the trunk of your car, drive around for about an hour, open up the trunk and see who's happy to see you. You know how you can leave for five minutes and come back and your dog is like, “Oh, I'm so happy to see you.” Pets are awesome that way and they don't tend to care about all the issues that we worry about. Pets can give us perspective on life.

From a parenting perspective, pets give an opportunity to learn responsibility as your kids learn to take care of those pets. Now, they can be a big hassle. They can introduce costs that your budget isn't ready for. There are really great payoffs in terms of the lessons that can be learned from having a pet. A pet gives you a certain, not a possible, but a certain opportunity to deal with death and loss. I'm assuming that you will probably survive longer than your pet will. Statistically speaking that is true. Their lifespan tends to be shorter than ours unless you get some exotic pet that lives for 150 years. Dogs, cats, hamsters and gerbils and the kinds of animals that we might keep around as pets tend to have a little shorter lifespan.

This isn't a bad thing, in fact it's a very low-cost way to learn some important principles about how we are going to deal with those same losses with people. Years ago, our family dog was getting old and we knew that she would pass at some point within the foreseeable future. The kids were dealing with these intense emotions that come from the loss of a pet. Our pet had been a dear friend, a companion that the kids had known most of their lives. I remember Brennon saying to me, “Ah, I just am so worried about when she dies and how I'm going to feel, and it got me thinking, “I don't know how I'm going to feel when you and mom pass.” See it got his mind thinking about wait a minute, this applies to people too. When we get into a relationship and we love someone or some pet, we set ourselves up for some pain. You know it's not a reason to not have the relationship. I think we just need to approach it in a way that is going to be healthy.

Let’s get into some tips to help you. Number one – think “when” not “if”. Is your pet going to die? I don't mean to sound cold or harsh, it's going to happen. This works for us personally as well as a parenting perspective. It's okay to talk to our kids about “when”, not “if”, that allows us to make some plans.

I have a friend who is a funeral director. He refers to himself as an undertaker. I used to think that's an old western term. He prefers the term because when someone dies, it's a huge undertaking to handle all of the details that are necessary when someone passes. Very practical things, very emotional things, it's a big undertaking. Thinking when allows us to prepare for the undertaking that occurs when the loss happens.

Tip number two – feel whatever you are going to feel. Give yourself full permission to have a full range of emotions. This pet has been a companion, someone that you have loved and shared experiences. How are you supposed to feel when they die or when you lose them? You are human, allow yourself to feel those feelings and let's give our kids permission to feel whatever they are going to feel. I don't think it's helpful for example to say, “No, don't cry.” No, do cry. Feel whatever you are going to feel and let yourself feel the full range of emotions that are typical and appropriate for humans to feel. When this kind of an event happens, this will also help to prepare us for other future experiences of loss and it's going to happen. Let yourself feel whatever you feel and let that be an acknowledgment of the love and the relationship that you had.

I've spoken at a lot of funerals and one of my favorite quotes is, “The only way to take the sorrow out of death is to take the love out of life.” So, feel whatever you are going to feel.

Now, tip number three, create a season for the loss. It is going to take a little while to adjust to the loss. There is a time that is necessary to grieve and to feel whatever you are going to feel. Now, this also includes having the funeral or memorial. Now, would you have a funeral for a pet? Maybe. What is the equivalent of the funeral for a pet? I remember when our dog passed, we gathered together as a family and each of the kids had an opportunity to say a few words. They got to recall things that they loved about this dear pet and things that irritated and annoyed them. Some memories were funny things. You'll notice when you go to a funeral, almost always, people laugh and they cry. Create a season for the loss and it might be that you take a few days off of work where you allow the kids to take a day or two off of school to support this season of loss. We rearrange our schedules to hold a funeral for those we love. How about we consider that with our pets too? In many cases they are just as important to us.

That ties right into step four, connect with loved ones. This is a really important way for human beings to process loss. Get together with people who can hug you. Connect with people who are sharing that loss and are feeling similar things. That way we get to use the support and resources of those around us to help us to adjust to this new phase of our life.

The final tip that I have to share about dealing with this kind of a loss is to memorialize or remember. This can happen in a lot of different ways. You might for example have some kind of physical reminder that you use to remember that dear pet. We have hanging in our hall, a plaque, that I made and this was actually really therapeutic for me because this dog, this sweet dog lived with us for fourteen and a half years and helped to raise my kids. How do I feel as a parent toward that dog? Oh, I just love her and I miss her. The plaque has a little picture of her and it has a poem that I wrote about some of the funny and some of the meaningful things that we experienced with her as our pet. You can do journaling, you can do some kind of a plaque, you can do a headstone, you can do an urn. There are companies out there who will take some of your pets’ hair for example and turn that into some kind of a locket or a pendant. Find whatever appropriate ways you have to memorialize and remember that pet. That way your pet gets to be continuing legacy for you and for your family.

Loss is hard and when we lose a pet, our routine, our expectations change, but we can grieve and know that we are better because we loved.