If you are like me, your pets aren’t just pets – they are family. My Nana used to buy her Pekinese, Bingo, a rotisserie chicken every week in the 80’s before cooking for your dog “was a thing.” I remember my uncle bringing his Collie AND Persian cat on his boat during the summer when I was a kid.
My dad has a Goldendoodle named Annie that he takes everywhere – even on the scooter. And me - I am completely obsessed with our 3 at home; a senior Pitty mix named Rocky and two Boston Terriers named Friday and Oyster. They are my babies. Literally. It is impossible to put into words how much I love them.
Being a pet lover at heart, I understand and value the bond you share with your companion animal. We include them in every aspect of our daily lives. Some of us take our pets to daycare so they won’t be lonely while we are at work. Some pet parents include theirs in family photoshoots and vacations.
Pets have their own bakeries, meet-up groups, and social media accounts. They were our saving grace during lockdown. Our pets love us unconditionally, and we love them the same.
But what happens when your furbaby enters their last phase of life – either with old age, chronic or sudden illness, or from an accident? It is the part of being a pet parent that no one wants to think about, let alone talk about. End-of-life is the proverbial elephant in the room. The emotional stress of watching your companion decline and the isolating feeling of having no options and nowhere to turn to can somehow make a devastating situation feel so much worse. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. I believe that every phase of a pet’s life is important and deserves to be honored and meaningful, including end-of-life.
There is so much that can be done to elevate your pet’s last years, months, weeks, days and even hours; educational and emotional support from a pet loss professional, bucket lists, end-of-life plans, and euthanasia support are some avenues to explore. Funeral and memorial services for pets are slowly gaining in popularity – and rightfully so. From small, private viewing services for a child’s first pet loss experience to a larger scale funeral with guests, floral arrangements and refreshments, pet parents are finding ways to honor their pet in death as they did in life.
The end-of-life journey doesn’t stop after a burial or cremation. The deafening silence of an empty home and the pet-shaped hole left in our hearts are real. Our daily routines are forever changed. For people like me, they were never “just a dog” and the lingering questions of “is how I feel normal?” and “when will I get over it?” are common.
It is important to find a community that understands and validates your feelings. From one-on-one grief companion sessions with pet loss professionals like myself, to numerous hotlines, chats, and groups; a safe place for you to express your feelings, share memories, and feel included is just a search away.
There are no correct or incorrect ways to honor the life of your pet – you know them best. This is your unique journey with them, do what feels right to you.
Lauren Ward is a pet death doula, certified pet loss and grief companion and owner of Safe Haven Pet Loss Center located in Peabody, MA. She has gone through extensive training in compassionate care, end-of-life care for pets, and pet loss & grief support. She is proud to be a content contributor for UVM's Companion Animal End-of-Life Doula program. Her goal, to help pet parents experience an unforgettable end-of-life journey with their pet, can be done in person at Safe Haven Pet Loss Center or virtually anywhere in the world via Zoom.