Dealing with Grief

Grief is a part of life as a Veterinarian or a member of our team. We share many of the happy times that families have with their pets. Sadly, we often share the experience of the death of a pet with our clients. Whether a pet dies at home or while under our care, the sorrow can be very overwhelming. It is common for  a  family member to be faced with making a loving, but hard decision to humanely end a pet’s suffering. We are all affected by these choices. Below are some resources that may be helpful for you or a family member.

I can’t stop thinking about my pet and feel an overwhelming sense of loss. Is that normal?

Different people have different experiences as they grieve the loss of a pet. It is not uncommon for a person to feel “surprised” at the degree to which they are grief-stricken. Pets do play a very significant role in our lives and when they are gone we often see most clearly the way we benefited from their unconditional love.

I feel guilty about how long we waited to put our pet to sleep.

I have found that some people express sadness and guilt because they feel that they “waited too long.” Others wonder if they really did all that they could do before making this hard decision. Either way, the feeling of grief and guilt is common. I think this is because we are placed in a position of responsibility and stewardship over a real “life and death” decision. The love that we received for years from our pets, with nothing expected in return, makes us feel anxious that we are “doing the right thing”. Many of you ask us that very question. In part, the final decision is a medical one. The relief of pain and suffering is part of the Veterinary Oath we take upon entering our profession. But in part this is a spiritual decision as well. Since none of us wants to play “God”, we are reluctant to make this choice.

My experience is that most people ultimately feel comforted in their final decision. Knowing that we can assist in this process, providing a pain-free procedure helps us to feel comforted in our role in this process.

Is there anyone who I can talk to?

The Pet Loss Support group has help line as well as Support Group meetings. Their number is: 602-995-5885 .

One of our long-time clients is a passionate animal lover. She is also a Clinical Social Worker/Therapist. Having years of experience with pets of her own, she approached Dr. Tenney a few years ago and made an amazingly kind offer. If one of our clients needs some support in dealing with the loss of a pet, on a limited basis she is willing to volunteer her time (at no charge to our client). Obviously, this is limited to a certain number of hours in a month. If you are interested in talking to her, please contact our office.

Here is a link to an online resource that may answer many of your questions regarding pet loss and grief. (We have nothing to do with this forum so please don’t assume we are in agreement with everything you may read there.) We are always willing and anxious to talk to you too.

You are not alone and it is very normal to feel a huge sense of loss at the death of a loved pet. We will do all we can to support you in this emotional trial.

You may want to read the poem, “The Rainbow Bridge”

Here is a story about pet loss, the human bond,  and the difficulty some have at the loss of their pet.

Sincerely, Dr. Tenney