Losing a Beloved Animal: The Grieving Process


As animal parents, many of us have experienced loss. I am sure you will agree the pain we feel when they leave is quite real. Sadly, I have helped four of my own animal companions pass, and I know all too well the quiet stillness they leave in their wake. No matter how tiny and unassuming or how large and boisterous, their presence is missed.

I do not claim to be an expert on the subject of grief. However, I have seen it enough to respect that we all handle it in our own way. Some keep busy, distracting themselves with household chores and never ending “To Do” lists. Others become so distressed that the mere thought of getting out of bed and facing the day seems impossible.

Many find solace in keeping dog beds, food bowls, and toys out in plain sight. For others, these things are a painful reminder of what they have lost and are quickly hidden away. Each dog and cat affects us differently in death, just as they did in life.

For me, that final good-bye it hits me hard. The moment they leave, a total feeling of despair washes over me. I cry until I have no tears left and I ache, I ache all over. It’s that deep ache that reaches me someplace dark inside. There is an emptiness and a longing nothing can fill. The thought of never seeing their precious face or feeling the comforting weight of their fluffy body in my arms seems too much to fathom. My animals are full-fledged family members, and I have learned it is healthy for me to take time to mourn their deaths, no matter how long it takes.

Thankfully, time does help. As the weeks pass, I find myself looking at photos of my furkids and, instead of tears, an unexpected smile graces my face. It is then I know the healing has begun. Finally, I am able to understand how fortunate I have been to feel such an incredible love and closeness to another living thing. It’s a privilege.

In the midst of grief, many of us doubt we will ever be able to go through it again. We swear “no more animals”. Then, one day it happens: we see an innocent little face on a rescue site staring back at us with hope in its eyes. In that instant, we know they belong with us.

It is only then we fully comprehend our beloved pet’s final gift; their love makes this all bearable. They give us the strength to open our heart and home to another, where they will be loved and cherished until the day comes when we have to let them go too. And, so the cycle continues.

I think the only thing worse than losing a dog or cat is the thought of life without another in it. They bring our lives so much joy; they love unconditionally and are worth every tear we shed when they leave. The reality is the grieving process may never get any easier, but, as time passes, we realize it’s a small price to pay to share our lives with these wonderful little creatures.

By Yvonne Harper

Yvonne Harper is a Washington-based author who, through her books, Blind Faith and Blind Faith Expanded, helps raise awareness and celebrate the lives of special need rescue animals. Each book contains photographs and stories of special need rescue dogs and cats.