The Freitag Funeral Home

Kenneth W. Freitag
Owner/Manager
N.J. Lic. No. 3666

Christopher K. LaBree
Funeral Director
N.J. Lic. No. 4497

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Losing A Pet

 

Answers to questions for children and animal lovers of all ages

Death of a Pet is written to provide answers in brief form to the most common questions that arise when a pet- any pet, large or small- is lost by death or disappearance, or through the need to remove the pet from the household.

These are traumatic events, and this booklet will be useful to all involved in the loss. We trust it will be especially helpful to you.

Your comments would be appreciated.

It was "just an animal." Why do I feel so sad?

You have suffered a loss, and your grief is a natural, human feeling. More than just an animal, your pet was a friend and companion who meant a lot to you. Don’t be ashamed of feeling depressed or lonely, or even of crying. Others who have felt such a loss will understand.

If anyone is not understanding and sympathetic, find someone else who is. Talk with your family and friends. Ask questions. Tell them how you feel. If you are sad, it’s all right to show it- as time passes, the sadness will decrease. However, it’s important not to pretend to be sad if you are not! 

Is it OK to cry?

Some people are more easily moved to tears than others are, but almost everyone cries- sometimes from joy, but more from pain or sorrow. It is nature’s way of allowing one to release unexpressed emotions. Your loving relationship with your pet has ended and you are likely to feel the loss for quite some time. Only be concerned if your grief persists too long without easing, or it results in severe depression, personality changes or difficulties in school or at work, or changes in your daily routine of sleeping or eating.

So, yes, it is ok to cry.

Why is it my pet that died?

Many things that happen to us are random events- some good, some bad. When you acquired your pet it was a happy occasion for both of you. Unfortunately, not all events are pleasant, and some-such as the death of your pet- may seem very unfair. Your distress- even anger- over your loss is understandable. With time these feelings will ease and, more than likely, you will understand better about life and death, and you will always have the memories of the good times you had with your pet.

When will I feel happy again?

Like sorrow over any meaningful loss, there are several stages of grieving people usually go through, some more quickly than others. At first there may be disbelief and denial, particularly if the loss was unexpected. This may be followed by anxiety or a sense of having been abandoned by your pet. As this anxiety lessens you may feel anger, or even self-blame.

After these stages pass you will feel sad- maybe even depressed- but after awhile you should be able to remember your pet without sorrow, and concentrate on the positive memories.

Why do I feel guilty?

Guilt is a feeling of responsibility for some real or imagined act. If you feel you made a mistake with your pet, try to be fair with yourself. You were taking care of your pet as best you knew how.

The unfortunate outcome probably wasn’t intended and, perhaps, couldn’t have been prevented. Remember, we all are human- we all make mistakes, but we learn from them. Understanding this may help you reduce your guilt feelings.

Can the loss of a pet cause extended emotional problems?

Usually a person will work through the grieving process in a few weeks. In rare cases, perhaps because of feelings of self-blame or extreme emotional attachment to the pet, recovery is very difficult. This sometimes is called abnormal grief.

Society teaches us to conceal our emotions. We are told, "Keep a stiff upper lip," "Be tough," "Don’t be a baby." We want to cry, but don’t. In some persons this causes an unusual condition called fear of grieving. They bottle up their feelings inside and lose their ability to complete the grieving process. This can cause extended or severe emotional problems, and professional help may be needed.

Should I discuss my feelings with my Animal Doctor?

Animal Doctors are called Veterinarians. They often face pet loss, and most have lost pets of their own, so they will know personally about the love for a pet and be very sympathetic to your feelings. Do feel free to make an appointment with your Veterinarian. Such a meeting may be all you need.

However, Veterinarians are educated primarily to help you keep your pet well and to help ill and injured animals. Some may not feel able to meet your emotional needs. Then he or she may refer you to a pet-loss support group or counselor, if available. If not, a mental-health counselor, social worker or minister may be able to help.

Why couldn’t a Veterinarian or an Animal Hospital keep my pet alive?

Animal Hospitals and Veterinarians can do many wonderful things to return an injured or sick pet to good health, but they can’t perform miracles. Sometimes recovery is not possible; they are no magical ways to improve some conditions. Unfortunately, some animals cannot be saved.

However, pet lovers can be sure that the Veterinarians and Animal Hospitals will do their very best to keep alive a pet that has an opportunity to enjoy life again.

Why do animals die?

All living things in this world go through a wonderful process which begins with birth and ends with death. Animals die because it is a natural part of this process.

At birth all body parts are new and usually perfect. In time, however, vital parts wear out and eventually stop functioning; then the animal dies. Occasionally death comes earlier than usual because of an illness or injury.

Because most pets have relatively short lifetimes compared to humans, it is not uncommon for a person to experience the death of a pet. Such a loss may be a child’s first encounter with death, thus providing that child with a valuable opportunity to learn how to cope successfully with it and other painful losses that may occur later in life.

Does dying hurt?

Veterinarians tell us that death usually is not painful. For an older animal especially, dying almost always is peaceful. When death finally comes it is a relaxation of the heart, lungs and muscles, without fear or pain.

When an animal dies as the result of an accident the shock of the injury often deadens the pain and, frequently, death comes quickly. Other times when an animal is sick or hurting, the Veterinarian will administer special medicines or treatment to ease the pain.

Is death like sleeping?

No, death is not at all like sleeping!

Animals- people, too- sleep to rest their bodies and stay in good health. The hard-working parts of a pet’s body, like yours, need time to restore vitality and strength. They are resting and recovering from previous activities. The sleeping pet awakens alive with energy and feeling.

When a pet dies, its body parts have stopped working. It is not resting; instead, it’s job is ended.

What is confusing is that people often use softer-sounding words like "gone," "sleeping," "at rest," or "at peace" to describe death. It’s important to know that words can mean different things at different times.

Will my pet ever come back?

If your pet has died, it never will come back to life in its body but your memory of it will remain with you always. However, if your pet has wandered off you may be fortunate enough to find it again, especially if it has an identification tag. As time goes on, the chances of getting it back become smaller. The pet may be found by a loving family who gradually will accept it into their household.

Can a new pet ever take the place of a lost one?

In a family, new members join by birth, adoption or marriage. They leave by marriage, death or for other reasons. Pets also join and leave the family, but a new pet does not replace the previous one. Instead it is a fresh, different, family member which will develop its own relationship within the family. The previous pet had its own habits and personality, and the memories of it will live on with each family member.

It usually takes a while to sort out the feelings about having another pet, so a new pet should not be brought in too quickly or without a lot of thoughtful consideration. Nevertheless, a new pet may be a wonderful addition to the family. It may help ease the grief you feel.

My friend’s pet died; why do I feel so sad?

When you are close to someone, as you are to your friend, you often have the same feelings he or she does, although perhaps not as strongly. You know your friend feels worse than you do, and that makes you feel sad. In addition, you, too, have suffered a loss. You probably had an affection for the pet, and your feeling of loss and sorrow are real and natural.

Let your friend know that his or her pet also was important to you and that you are sad as well. By sharing your feelings and memories you will comfort one another. This will help both of you overcome your sadness.

Does my friend, who lost a hamster, feel as sad as I did when my dog died?

Some pet owners have as much affection for their bird, hamsters, snake or even fish as others have for their dog, cat, or horse. The size, type or breed of an animal is not a good measure of how strongly a person feels about his or her pet. Instead, it usually is the emotional make-up of the pet’s master that determines the degree of feeling. Some people are more sensitive than others, and some have different events happening in their lives which affect their feelings. It’s not possible to compare directly another person’s degree of feeling with your own.

What can I do for my friend?

Most people hide their emotions to some degree, so your friend probably feels much more sorrow than he or she shows. People react differently, but all do suffer. Knowing this, just be there as a friend, offering to help. Phone calls, cards, or notes of sympathy are helpful, too.

Don’t make light of your friend’s loss. Avoid saying, "It was just a dog," or "You can get another." Let your friend know you realize how important the pet was to him or her. Encourage talking about the lost pet, if your friend will do so. Provide your help if needed- even without being asked. Offer advice only if your friend asks for it. Be careful about recommending a "replacement" pet; this might reduce the importance of the lost pet. A new pet may (or may not) be wanted later.

Above all, be patient, caring and understanding. Your friendship is needed even more now!

Is a pet a member of the family?

People acquire animals for various reasons. On a farm or ranch, for instance, only a special animal will become a family pet. In some homes, however, an animal is the only companion a person has. In others, the pet acts as the eyes or ears for someone with a disability. In most homes a pet provides affection, friendship and loyalty, and is dependent on family members for its well-being. Thus, in time, the companion animal usually does become a truly important member of the family.

Is it possible to feel worse about the loss of a pet than the death of a relative?

To most people, particularly those not involved in the relationship, the relative would be more important than the pet. However, we are not measuring value here, but rather the sense of loss felt by the pet’s master. The anxiety and sorrow over the separation from a well-loved pet may be very great. On the other hand, the emotional attachment to the relative who died may not have been very strong at all. Thus the distress over the loss of the pet may indeed be worse, and the pet owner need not feel guilty about it.

Our pet is terminally ill. How should we prepare?

Terminally ill means that the pet will die soon from its illness. Knowing this will happen will often begin the grieving process in the family. Denial, anger, guilt, and depression may occur. Deal openly and truthfully with children involved in the relationship with the pet. If ending the pet’s life (called euthanasia) must be considered, include the children in the decision-making process.

Everyone’s feelings of grief, whether strong or mild, should be anticipated and considered normal. If the adults involved will let their own feelings of sorrow show, the children probably will follow their example.

Why should euthanasia be considered?

Sometimes a pet is in pain or distress and there is no hope that it can recover and lead a happy, pain-free life again. Then it may be an act of kindness to end the life of the animal. It is not an easy choice to make. Both the Veterinarian and the pet owner would like the pet to recover. But when that’s not possible, the animal deserves a humane, dignified, pain-free end to life. The Veterinarian and the pet’s family, including children, should understand and decide together to do what is most merciful for the pet and the family.

Should I be present during euthanasia?

The presence of the pet’s master can be very comforting to the pet. Also, seeing the dead body may provide the pet owner with a sense of finality, or closure- most helpful in grief recovery. Whether children should be present or not depends on their age, emotional state and sense of understanding. Perhaps viewing the pet after death, or merely being told the pet is dead, will provide the closure they need, too.

The Veterinarian usually will permit your presence and will prepare you for the changes that will occur in your pet. If not, another Veterinarian may be more accommodating. However, if being present would be too upsetting, you should not feel guilty. If you choose not to be present, the Veterinarian may arrange for you to spend time in the room beforehand, or to say your final goodbyes after euthanasia. Either way, the Veterinarian will be gentle and compassionate with your pet.

Are animals buried when they die?

Several choices are available for disposing of the body of a deceased pet-burial is one of them. The place of burial can vary from a backyard to a Pet Cemetery, depending on the size of the pet and the laws or ordinances of the community. It is wise to check these first.

Some communities have Pet Funeral Directors or Pet Cemeteries who will handle all the necessary details. Your Veterinarian may have more information about this.

If home burial is chosen, it should be made several feet deep and in a container- a cloth or box, or a special holder obtained from a Pet Store, Veterinarian, Funeral Director or Pet Cemetery. 

Can my pet’s body be cremated?

Yes, and most Veterinarians can help arrange for cremation, which is the use of extreme heat to reduce the dead body of an animal to ashes. The ashes then can be disposed of by the Veterinarian or returned to the owner to be buried or scattered in some place that was special to the pet or its master. They also may be kept in a special container- called an urn- at the pet owner’s residence or at a pet cemetery.

Can I have a service for my dead pet?

Yes, you can hold a funeral service in connection with the disposal of the pet’s ashes or the burial of the body. Or, you can have a memorial service later. Such a service can be simply a gathering of the family, sharing memories of the pet. An extensive service by a Pet Funeral Director, with casket, flowers, memorable quotes and more, also is possible.

Whatever is selected, remember the service really is for the benefit of the persons to whom that pet was important. It will comfort and help them accept the finality of their loss- a necessary step in the recovery from grief.

What can I do to memorialize my pet?

Memorializing means doing something to keep the memory of your pet alive. If you buried your pet, place a temporary memorial of flowers on the grave, or use a more permanent marker of wood, bronze, or stone. Plant a shrub or tree in the name of your pet. Make a contribution of time or money to your local humane society or animal shelter. Make a donation in your pet’s name to one of the many fine organizations trying to save the world’s animals and sea mammals, and so increase the benefits of people and animals together.

Just a talk, story or poem honoring your pet or a visit to its resting place is a memorial, too. Letters of thanks to your Veterinarian and others who helped would be appreciated by them. Whatever you decide, it is a way to help you keep the fond memory of your loving friend in your heart.

Do pets go to heaven?

Many animal lovers feel there must be a special place for the pets they loved so much. Pets certainly deserve a reward for the companionship, love and devotion they have shown to us.

However, no one has ever returned from heaven to tell us whether animals live there or not. We certainly hope they do, and that your pet now is there, too.

Conclusion and References

Grief, which usually results from the death of loss of a pet, presents an involved and difficult set of emotions and problems which cannot be thoroughly covered in this short book.

For more information and help in understanding death, dying and pet loss you may want to consider some of the many books readily available through normal book sources or libraries.

We hope that this will answer any questions that you may have. As always, if you have any additional questions, please feel free to call us at (856) 455-2600 or write to us at questions@freitagfuneralhome.com

 
 

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