When a friend or loved one has lost their pet it is often very hard to know what to say to help. With over 200 million pets owned in the United States most of us will, at one time or another, be called upon to support an important person in our life as they experience the often times devastating loss of a pet. While it may be very hard to know what to say, an important part of supporting the loved one is to know what not to say:
1. It was just a dog (fill in here: cat, horse, bird, rabbit, gerbil, etc) - There are millions of households in America who have chosen to own a pet, often as a very important part of their family. The love that a pet owner shares with this pet is indeed a unique and special part of your loved one’s life and should never be minimized as “just a…” anything.
2. If losing a pet is doing this to you, I would hate to see what you would do if you lost something really important, like a child - This cannot be a helpful thing to say under any circumstance. While this attempt at “tough love” may seem like it will shake the loved one out of their misery, don’t say it. As someone once said, “never be a party to someone’s deepest pain; you may never be forgiven for it”.
3. At least you won’t have the kitty litter (carpet spots, horse stall, cage) to deal with anymore - Many times with the loss of a pet, those are just the routines that a pet owner misses the very most. The daily reminder that those chores are no longer necessary while seemingly freeing to someone from the outside can be a very painful part of the loss of a pet.
4. They are in a better place - While a very nice thought, in the beginning throes of a loss, it can also be a very discomforting thought. To a pet owner the “best place” for their pet is in their home or in their arms. A responsible pet owner feels responsible for every aspect of their pet’s wellbeing and the bereaved pet owner may feel that they are letting their pet down by not “being there” any longer for them.
5. You can get another dog (fill in here: cat, horse, bird, rabbit, gerbil, etc) - The bereaved pet owner know this, it doesn’t have to be stated right away. Often a pet owner will need time to process their loss before they can contemplate bringing another pet into their lives. Many bereaved pet owners feel that they would be “unfaithful” to their beloved pet in finding another so quickly. Some actually do need to fill the space immediately with another pet. This suggestion can remain unspoken in the beginning of the grieving period.
6. I thought you were prepared for this – Even though the bereaved pet owner may have been dealing with an aging or ill pet for a long period of time, the actual loss is something that really cannot be fully anticipated. Each pet loss is unique, even for the experienced pet owner who has traveled down the path of pet loss before. While often prepared for the process , the finality of the event and the acceptance of facing the days ahead without their pet’s presence is something that pet owners need to deal with in their own way.
7. Enough time has passed, you should be getting over this by now - Time actually is the only thing that will get the bereaved pet owner in a “better place” with their loss but sometimes it can take a very long time. Every pet owner processes their loss at a different pace and the best thing that a loved one can do is wait and be gentle and patient. Perhaps some lovingly suggested pet loss support groups, online pet loss sites or helpful pet loss books would be a better approach.
While it can be very hard to know for sure what to say when a loved one in your life is facing the loss of a beloved pet here are two simple suggestions which are guaranteed to be on the list of “7 Things To Say When Someone Has Lost A Pet”: I love you and I am so sorry. Say them softly and say them often.