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Pet Bereavement

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

First of all you need to acknowledge it's a valid loss - And other people need to acknowledge that too. Usually people get it when you lose a family member but can sometimes think you're being ridiculous or are surprised at the depth of the loss. Can be surprised yourself. Your dog can be your best friend.

With children - acknowledge that they can be very attached to their pets. For a lot of children it will be their first brush with death. So don't just replace the dead goldfish when they're at school. Talk about death to them and how pets and humans do die. Good to have a grief process.

Also other pets in the household may need a bit more care, give them a little extra TLC.

Don't rush into buying a new pet for everyone. It's not a substitute for the pet that has died. Take the time with the first one. Don't rush into it as you're cutting off the grief process, good to acknowledge it. Or it can become somatic - signs: not eating/sleeping well, out of sorts.

You don't have to have a big funeral and invite all the family, but there's a little ritual around it. Have a chat with someone. If the pet has been put down can bury or cremate, whatever you feel is right. If it's a dog it's harder than a goldfish.

As with humans, don't throw out all their things. Keep mementoes. Can give some away, pass on the basket. Who gets the dog's collar? Keep a favourite toy, make a scrapbook. Don't hurry yourself through the grief. Don't feel silly if you want to hold onto some things. It has happened and it is a big deal.

Grief is very tough! No one chooses to do that. Eventually you have to shift gear and shake yourself down. You can't over-indulge in grief as such. If someone needs the attention, and does it through the grief then they probably need it anyway.

It's a very personal choice as to when you can get another pet. No one should tell you when is right.

If you are an older person and cannot take on the responsibility of another pet (as you're 70 and a dog can now live until about age 20 and you don't know if you'll still be around at 90 to take care of them) then there are alternatives: help train guide dogs for the blind puppies, or offer help in a pound, offer to mind someone's dog for them, the DSPCA offer a fostering service and provide all the vaccinations, food bedding, vet's fees etc so you just share the love and you and the pet will benefit.

Contact Guide Dogs for the Blind on: / Lo-call: 1850 506 300 /

Contact the DSPCA on: 01-4935502

Also other rescue services all over the country will have animals that people can foster or walk. Both people and pets will benefit.

Nothing in the IHF by way of support groups. But there are books are in the IHF library on pet bereavement. This leaflet validates it is a loss. You can also order books on Amazon or through the IHF, if you pay for P&P they will send out the book and then when you're finished with them, send the books back.

Also contact the IHF for the leaflet or download the leaflet or call the IHF reception 01 6793188

Angela Hickey - Vet:-

Vet's who have to do a Pet Euthanasia need to concentrate on preparation of the family for what's going to take place. More time has to be given to sitting down with the family where possible. Even in an emergency situation or a busy clinic, if a pet is dead on arrival or from an accident, the vet should give the family time with the pet. Also keep the environment as natural as possible, wrap the pet in a blanket, give the family time to say goodbye.

If an animal is heading for euthanasia, adequate heavy painkillers if possible to hold on the pet's life, so that there is time before the final act. Slow down the process so that the family can take it in: the shock, trauma, emotional impact of the accident and the euthanasia (of course not delaying any necessary euthanasia). Try not to be too clinical. If handled sensitively at the time can help the deep grief symptoms later.

These days animals are living much longer and can avail of chemo- and radio-therapy, and treatment / medicine for joints, liver, kidneys, hearts can help - there is a growing area of geriatric care for pets! But no harm to prepare people for the loss, bring it up at an earlier stage.

Location - if euthanasia is needed, best to do in the pet's own home, if the owner can handle it. Bringing the pet to the vet can be stressful, so if possible in the home is a nice alternative. If you need to go to the clinic, bring a familiar blanket and make the atmosphere as comfortable as possible.

Injection - Talk through with the owner what will happen. The injection goes into the vein and straight to the heart - it is an overdose, a very high dose of anaesthetic - so that one minute the pet is awake, the next gone, and important to note there is no pain at all. It is hard for the vet too, so no harm for the vet to sympathise with the family and say how he will miss the pet too, as they'd become fond of them through caring for them through the years etc.

After the event support -The owner will leave the clinic bereft. If they're going home alone, and it's an elderly person, ring them later. Nurses might do that. If the remains are cremated the vet practice will usually look after that. The vet should aim to be sensitive at all times.

The person may be angry at the vet or nurse, be aware that this is part of the grieving process. Let them speak but don't take it personally and try answer clearly and with full information, age appropriate for children. Don't leave the child out of the equation, but they will leave it to the parents to explain it to them.

Fostering of pets by the DSPCA is a wonderful project. It's like the elderly person is not left alone with the pet - they share the responsibility with the DSPCA.

Also the initial training for the National Council of the Blind guide dogs to get them socialized is a great project.

Never tell someone what to do with their grief. It may work to get a pet straight away.


The DSPCA are in the process of constructing a bespoke pet memorial garden here at the shelter for this purpose.

The Death of a Beloved Pet - How You Can Cope

When someone you love dies it's normal to be upset and expect people to be understanding. However, when a companion pet dies, many people may consider offering support as being inappropriate because they view the loss as 'just a pet.' We at the DSPCA believe nothing could be further from the truth. We understand the devastation felt at the loss of a beloved pet.

A pet is a Member of the Family:

We love our pets and consider them to be our family. Lots of pet owners celebrate their pets' birthdays, buy them presents and carry their pictures in their wallets, purses, on mobile 'phones and even post them on social sites like Facebook and Bebo. Therefore, when a pet dies, it's normal to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow; after all, haven't they provided us with emotional support and unconditional love?

The Grief Process:

There is no set rule to grieving for a pet. Grief is as individual as the person. Sometimes it begins with denial. Some pet owners feel anger, and this may be directed towards anyone, even those involved with the pet. This can include family members, friends or even the vet. They may also be angry at themselves and experience guilt. What did I do? Should I have done more? Should I have done less? Is it inappropriate to feel so upset?

When these feelings of anger and guilt subside, true sadness may set in. The owner may even feel depressed. Acceptance will only occur when they realise they have lost their pet and begin to remember the animal with decreasing sadness.

How do you cope?

There are no rules for coping but remember, you are not alone. There are bereavement counselling services and online bereavement groups, etc., maybe your local family project group, church notice board, credit union notice board, will have a list of helpline numbers.

Here's a few tips to help you cope:

. Acknowledge that you are grieving and give yourself permission to grieve.
. Reach out to those who understand and can lend a helping, compassionate, hand.
. Write down your feelings. (Maybe compose a poem or write a story).
. Call your local animal shelter or vet to see if they can offer a helpline to a pet loss support group.
. Arrange a memorial for your pet.

Senior Citizens

Senior citizens can take the loss of a pet particularly hard, especially if they live alone and the pet was their sole companion. The pet's death may also trigger other painful memories and remind the owners of their own mortality. Also, the decision to give another pet a home may be complicated by the possibility the new pet may outlive the owner. An option here is to foster a pet. See for details on our Senior Foster Programme.


When a pet dies, it may be the first experience the child has when it comes to coping with death. The child may even blame the parents, the vet, or even blame himself. The child may experience fear that other beloved members of his family will be taken away from him. Trying to protect your child by telling him the pet ran away from home may cause your child to expect the pet to return. Expressing your own grief and encouraging your child to express theirs will help your child understand that it's ok to be sad and this will help him work through his feelings.

Surviving Pets

Surviving pets may even whimper, go off their food and get depressed because they've lost a friend too. Remember, pets develop a close bond with each other. However, if they weren't best friends with the deceased animal, your own emotional state may distress them. Give them lots of love and try to maintain a normal routine. If your remaining pet continues to be a bit out of sorts, take him to the vet, there may be another reason that requires medical attention

Don't rush to get another pet; it's unfair to you and the new pet. Every animal is individual so you cannot replace a lost one, just as you cannot replace a lost human companion. You will know when the time is right to adopt a new pet. When you're ready, drop up to see us at the DSPCA, Mount Venus Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16 and take a look at our animals who are in need of a loving home. Or log onto

Miriam Kerins
Education Officer (PH:01-4935502 Ext:205)
Dublin SPCA -170 years Standing Up For Animals
Mount Venus Road,
Dublin 16.


Puppy Walking - Guide Dogs for the Blind

Puppy walking is the term we use to describe the vital process of preparing puppies for their future career as a guide dog or an assistant dog.

Walkers are individuals or families, mostly in Munster and Dublin, who agree to take a pup into their home for a period of approximately 12 months, to rear, socialise and educate it in all aspects of everyday life.

The role involves house-training, grooming and basic obedience exercises. No charge. 18 and over. Full time for a year and at the end of the year the puppy goes back to the Guide Dogs group.
They provide the Puppy Walkers with the necessary support and back-up to enable them to successfully educate and socialise their puppies. A variety of practical workshops are organised for Puppy Walkers to aid their knowledge and assist them with dog handling skills.

All veterinary fees and feeding costs are covered by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the puppy's progress is monitored by regular visits from a Supervisor. Currently we only consider Puppy Walkers in the Munster and Dublin areas due to limitations on resources. Furthermore, it is important to note that applications are evaluated according to various criteria, the most important of which are:

a) There needs to be an adult at home full time;
b) Puppies cannot be placed in homes where there are children under the age of five.

If you are interested in becoming a Puppy Walker, please complete the application form Puppy Walkers brochure.

Alternatively for more information call us on lo-call 1850 506 300