End of Life
Every pet owner has to face the death of a pet. Ideally your pet will live a long, full life and will have a peaceful death at an old age. Unfortunately, that is not always the way it turns out and sometimes it is the owner who has to make the decision to end a pets suffering.
Euthanasia: The Difficult Choice
For a pet-lover, no decision is more difficult than authorizing euthanasia. Many pet owners choose to spend the final moments with their pets. You might wish to stroke the animal's head and speak gently as the drug is administered. This is often a choice owners have if they have their pet euthanized at a full- service veterinary office. Some veterinarians will also make a home visit where the pet can spend those final moments in a comfortable, familiar environment.
Other pet owners choose not to witness the procedure. One can have their pet euthanized at a full-service veterinary office where they will also handle the remains but not be present. Another option is to have a pet euthanized at the Napa County Animal Shelter. It is important to know that an owner does not have the option of being with their pet during those final moments if euthanized at the Napa County Animal Shelter.
The Grief Process
When a person you love dies, it's natural to feel sorrow, express grief, and expect friends and family to provide understanding and comfort. Unfortunately, the same doesn't always hold true if the one who died was your companion animal. Many consider grieving inappropriate for someone who has lost "just a pet." Nothing could be further from the truth.
People love their pets and consider them members of their family. They celebrate their pets' birthdays, confide in their animals, and carry pictures of them in their wallets. So when a beloved pet dies, it's not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow.
Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you've already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when a pet dies.
Understanding how you grieve and finding ways to cope with your loss can bring you closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears.
The First Stage: Denial
Denial is the initial response of many pet owners when confronted with a pet's terminal condition or sudden death. This rejection seems to be the mind's buffer against a sharp emotional blow.
The Second Stage: Bargaining
This stage is well documented in the human grieving process. Many times, faced with impending death, an individual may "bargain" - offering some sacrifice if the loved one is spared. People losing a pet are less likely to bargain. Still, the hope that a pet might recover can foster reactions like, "If Sam recovers, I'll never skip his regular walk . . . never put him in a kennel when I go on vacation, . . . never . . . "
The Third Stage: Anger
Recognizing anger in the grief process is seldom a problem; dealing with anger often is. Anger can be obvious, as in hostility or aggression. On the other hand, anger often turns inward, emerging as guilt.
More commonly, pet owners dwell on the past. The number of "If only . . ." regrets is endless: "If only I hadn't left the dog at my sister's house . . ." "If only I had taken Kitty to the veterinarian a week ago . . ." Whether true or false, such recriminations and fears do little to relieve anger and are not constructive. Here, your veterinarian's support is particularly helpful.
The Fourth Stage: Grief
This is the stage of true sadness. The pet is gone, along with the guilt and anger, and only an emptiness remains. It is now that the support of family and friends is most important-and, sadly, most difficult to find. A lack of support prolongs the grief stage. Therefore, the pet owner may want to seek some help from their veterinarian, pet cemeterian, or from a professional counselor.
It is normal, and should be acceptable, to display grief when a companion animal dies. It is helpful, too, to recognize that other pet owners have experienced similar strong feelings, and that you are not alone in this feeling of grief.
The Final Stage: Resolution
All things come to an end-even grieving. As time passes, the distress dissolves as the pet owner remembers the good times, not the pet's, passing. And, more often than not, the answer lies in a new pet, a new companion animal to fill the need for a pet in the household.
Coping with Grief
While grief is a personal experience, you need not face loss alone. Many forms of support are available, including pet bereavement counseling services, pet-loss support hotlines, local, or online Internet bereavement groups, books, videos, and magazine articles.
Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
- Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
- Don't hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
- Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem.
- Explore the Internet for pet loss support groups and coping information.
- Prepare a memorial for your pet.
The Proper Good Bye
Facing the death of your pet is sad and stressful, and having to decide what to do with the body often adds to that stress. That's why it's best to explore options available for the final care of your pet's body before his death. However, if your pet dies before you can make arrangements, most veterinary hospitals can keep your pet's body for a few days while you consider your options. As emotionally draining as the decision can be, it helps to know that there are several alternatives to choose from, depending on practical, legal, financial, emotional, and spiritual considerations.
Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park, a pet cemetery in Napa, can handle disposition matters or explain the choices available through that facility. There are several options: cemetery burial, communal burial, communal cremation, private cremation, and home burial. Your veterinarian can also help you with disposition. The most economical way to handle disposition of the pet's remains is likely going to be through the Napa County Animal Shelter.
How Surviving Pets May Respond
Surviving pets may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased pet. Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. However, if your remaining pet/s continue to act out of sorts, there could actually be a medical problem that requires your veterinarian's attention.
Give surviving pets lots of TLC, and try to maintain a normal routine. It's good for them and for you.
Acquiring a New Pet
Rushing into this decision isn't fair to you or a new pet. Each animal has his own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You'll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership, and paying close attention to your feelings.
When you're ready, please consider adoption as your first option.