What to say when a pet passes on


One need only look to the Pennsylvania government to see the paradigm shift in the way people feel about their pets. Just a short time ago the discussion - and the law making - was controlled by those who viewed dogs as commodities. They were, in the oft-quoted line, "cash crops" for farmers.

Now the animal lovers are driving the debate and lawmakers are listening as evidenced by tougher laws, battles for endorsements by humane groups and the stream of new bills moving forward in recent weeks to improve the lives of animals.

It's no different in death. We mourn the losses of pets as we do human families members - in some cases more. We not only take paw prints and hair clips as mementos, we want to be buried with them. (See The New York Times story about the New York law allowing people to be interred with their pets.)

So what is a friend to do to comfort another who has lost their beloved companion?

Our wonderful veterinarians at Boiling Springs Animal Hospital have written us touching, personal notes during our times of grief. I try to console myself and others who have saved unwanted animals with thoughts that the dog or cat might not have lived at all - or endured a difficult existence - without our help. 

A recent entry by Vicki Cook on Petfinder Foundation's "Bunny's Blog" offers her Seven Dos and Don'ts for such occasions:

 1. Don’t say things like, "It's only a cat," or suggest a replacement pet right away. "Some people still do not realize that pet loss is an authentic cause for bereavement and recovering takes time," says Emily Fromm, vice president of development at the Petfinder Foundation. In all cases, do let your friend know you are available to listen, but know that she might prefer to grieve alone.

2. Give a card to express your sympathy. If you've experienced the death of a pet yourself, relate how you felt. This can make your friend feel less alone.

3. Write a handwritten note. According to USPS, the average person receives handwritten mail only once every seven months. So holding a letter in your hand is rare and very personal. Include a happy memory you have of their pet or describe the special ways you noticed they interacted with each other.

4. Honor their pet with a memorial donation. "Many people want to give the pet a meaningful legacy by helping to save the lives of other animals in need," Fromm says. The Petfinder Foundation has a program in which donors can post a pet photo and include some words in his or her memory on the organization's online memorial wall. The organization sends out a gift packet which includes an individual pet name charm and a letter about the memorial.

5. Frame a photo. If you don't have a photo of your friend's pet, check Facebook. Most people share at least a few pictures of their pets and some pets even have their own pages.

6. Use the photo to make a custom gift. Some online services will manufacture your choice of keepsake from scratch. One of the best is Fuzzy Nation. They have a large selection of customizable home décor and personal accessories.

7. Help your friend find grief support. If you search "pet loss" online you will find many websites with supportive communities. The site petloss.com offers many different types of support.