“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.” – Sydney Jeanne Seward
As animal lovers and guardians, we gain an understanding that our pet’s time here (at least in physical form) is on average significantly shorter than that of our own species, and yet our relationships are no less important because of it. In fact, some of the most profound relationships I have ever experienced have been with an animal. I know that this sentiment is shared with other veterinary professionals, my friends, and my clients. Losing a pet can be one of the most painful and heartbreaking experiences, and oftentimes we feel helpless during the process. That’s why I’d like to offer 4 suggestions on how to help your pet’s transition across rainbow bridge.
1 Establish Relationships:
We are never fully prepared for the death of our pets, especially if the death is sudden. That said, we can be more prepared. Make sure you have an established relationship with a veterinarian in your community. Feel really comfortable that this veterinarian is a good fit for you and your animal. Know the hours that they work, and find a resource to call in the event of an after hours situation (ie: emergency clinics).
2) Understand Euthanasia and Animal Hospice:
Euthanasia is defined as a “humane death”. In some cases, deciding on the time to say goodbye feels really clear (ie: traumatic event). Other times, it can feel very muddy, and can weigh on the guardian’s mind and heart for a long time (this often feels true with seniors). Try to stay connected with your animal – oftentimes, they will communicate with you in subtle ways. Educate yourself on the process of euthanasia (click here for more information). If your pet’s regular veterinarian does not offer this service, make sure you know who in your community does. There are many veterinary services that offer at-home euthanasias as well. If you can, I urge you to stay with your dying pet during the process.
I also recommend researching the details of animal hospice, and what this entails. While euthanasia may (or may not) still be necessary at the end of hospice, the discussion and education surrounding high quality hospice care for our pets is on the rise — and that is a great thing! Check out Dr. Bittel’s website, all about supporting your pet’s transition with high level hospice care. Discuss your philosophies with your veterinarian, friends and family, so that you all can feel supported by each other.
3) Stay Connected:
This is such an important element that often gets overlooked, especially when a pet is terminally ill. It’s so very understandable to become overwhelmed and stressed with the medical procedures, financial restraints, and with the beginning stages of grief as your pet begins to decline. Try to stay connected with your pet. That connection is one of the primary reasons for the deep love and devotion we feel with animals, let’s not forget that they feel it with us as well. One way for a guardian to stay connected is by performing regular massage on their animal. This will not just have medical benefits, but also emotional. The power of touch is tremendous, and can quickly alter brain chemistry (in a good way!). Having a professional massage is a definite option. Profession practitioners can help alleviate areas of tension and discomfort, and this can offer the guardian what may be a much needed break. However, I urge the guardian to also massage their pet during this time – sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than to be touched by the one you love the most.
4) Honor Your Grief:
First of all, you are not alone. As a seasoned veterinary technician, I can tell you this with full certainty. So I’ll repeat – you are not alone. Grieving the death of your pet can feel completely overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to reach out. There are tons of online pet loss support groups. Click here for information offered by The Humane Society of the United States, all about coping with the death of your pet. Some communities offer in-person support groups. It can be so helpful to be around people that are going through a similar experience. Volunteering at animal shelters or sanctuaries may also supply a grieving guardian with a good support group, as well as the ability to be around animals (which in and of itself is healing!).
Saying goodbye is never easy, no matter the circumstances, yet we know the time will come. My hope is that these 4 suggestions may help offer insight on how to make your pet’s transition across rainbow bridge just a little smoother. Staying prepared, knowing your resources, keeping connection and honoring your grief are some of the best ways to stay empowered and in control during a time that can feel very out of control. Our pets make us better humans – so thank you for loving them with all of your heart. You are amazing because of it.