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The Family Pet: Coping with Loss of a Beloved Dog or Cat

Often, losing a family pet — whether due to old age or health issues — can be a tremendous blow to a family and cause lasting grief among adults as well as children. Pet “parents” might feel as if they have lost one of their “babies,” and children — who often relate to beloved pets as if they were special friends or confidantes — are often left with a sense of upheaval and loneliness.

It’s never easy, but according to Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, there are things families can do to make the loss of a family dog, cat, rabbit, gerbil or other animal less traumatic.

An author, speaker, family therapist and leadership/life skills consultant, his books include a title related to helping families grieve, “The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice From Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups.”

“When we lose a pet, we lose a relationship unlike any other,” Dolan-Del Vecchio said, via written press release. “Many of us love our pets the way we love our children. But in the immediate aftermath of this unique loss, too often family members and friends say things like, ‘just get another one.’ Instead of devaluing your grief over the loss of this important relationship, as others may advise, embrace your sorrow. Your grief is important, for it will lead you to healing and teach you important things about what matters most in life.”

Dolan-Del Vecchio offers these tips for those grieving the loss of a pet:

  • Share your grief with empathetic friends. Spend time with people who understand your closeness with your pet. Even some friends may be insensitive, so be careful to avoid “get over it” types of people.
  • Attend a pet loss support group. Pet loss groups provide a concentrated dose of social support. Meeting with others who also grieve and share similar emotions can boost one’s healing greatly.
  • Keep moving. Exercise is a healer. It boosts feelings of well-being and calm, improves sleep and brightens your mood.
  • Be creative. Whether you lean toward writing, scrapbooking, ceramics, photography or making collages, creative projects may contribute to healing.
  • Spend time in nature. Nothing quiets the mind and soul like a stroll through a park, nature preserve, or by the seashore.

“The natural world brings special benefits when your heart has been torn by grief,” Dolan-Del Vecchio said. “The sights, sounds, and smells of nature connect us to eternal, circular stories of life and death in ways that go beyond our usual thoughts and feelings, and this experience brings solace to many people.”

“It’s important to care for yourself when you’re grieving your pet,” he added. “This requires some planning and acts of will, as grief can diminish energy and motivation. You can lessen your distress through self-care. Above all else, be gentle with yourself.”

For more information on “The Pet Loss Companion,” visit Greengateleadership.com.

Kara Bachman is an author, editor, and a mom to two teenage kids and two cute mutts. Her family has always owned dogs, and always will.

About The Author

Kara Bachman

Kara Bachman is a married mom to two children. She's the author of the humor essay collection, "Kissing the Crisis," which deals with the zanier aspects of parenting, relationships, and turning 40. She's read her work on NPR radio and over 1,500 items have appeared in dozens of literary and commercial publications, including The Writer, The Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Nola.com, Dogster, Mississippi Magazine, American Fitness, and many more. She's a New Orleans native, but lived for over a dozen years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including during 2005 when her house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

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