I have asked friends who have lost furry loved ones over the years and some recently to describe their experiences.
Nita Keesler is a wellness practitioner and massage therapist who has opened her heart and home to numerous animals over the years.
She says, “My animals have always been my family and mean the world to me. I often out their needs before my own. I just can’t imagine life without sharing it with them, even through inevitable heartache…as they enrich it so much.”
She always had a full house, “My first animal family after leaving home were all cats…folks called me the kitty hospice because it turned out that each that I adopted turned out to be very sick. Only one from that group lived more than two years….and she was with me for 16 of her 18 years.
She continues, “My second family, added on over the course of 10 year,s were three dogs and two cats, including my older kitty. And that transitioned slowly into my third and present family of five cats and one dog. In the mix was an old dog and cat who lived their remaining two years with me.”
The role call includes:
“Freckles, Angus, Caden, Smokey boy, Porto, Sage, Luna, Smokey girl, Deuce, Loki, Papa,Sophia…plus my first family of Lister, Elizabeth, Natasha, Sunji ,Tigerboots ,Mac…plus a hodge podge of stray kitties over the years who used my house as their home base.”
When they have died, some suddenly, Nita had this experience, “In the first family yes several were sudden…but each needed to be euthanized. I didn’t have enough time to fully bond with them but being the way I am with animals…it hit me hard. My ‘heart dog’ and ‘heart cat’…even though they were old…just about broke me. I found my cat as she was taking her last breath. I have had to euthanize four dogs and one cat in the last 5 1/2 years.”
It is quite a juxtaposition, “The spiritual side of me understands that death is a part of life. That they were comfortable and cared for here. I would still go through this pain over and over to be able to have this kind of love in my life. However, especially with six animals remaining, I am at a point that my heart needs a rest and it will be a little while before bringing in a new family member.
What Grief Looks Like
For Nita, grief looks like this, “I allow myself to cry. To rage. I watch movies of similar nature when I feel I can’t get it all out. I have tried a pet grief support group…I loved sharing and interacting with the other pet parents but I didn’t resonate with the leader. It helped me to help others who were going through it for the first time.”
She adds, “And the biggest important factor for me is that I am surrounded by other animal lovers who’ve gotten it’ or at the very least people who care about me even if they are not an animal person themselves. No one has said anything like ‘it is just a dog/cat….get over it’.
Other animals in the home grieve as well. Nita shares:
“Mostly they have transitioned well. However, with the one old dog here for two years…he kept everyone in line so my remaining old and young dog seemed lost for three months.
My one old cat was the kitty chaplain. She always helped comfort the dying dogs and those of us who remained. She passed five months ago, so with my old dog passing this month…we all feel lost.
And then three of my kitties have stepped up and basically they and my young dog and myself just kind of huddle together. My young dog has not been without doggie pals since he got here. He had separation anxiety which is why he lost his last home (who had rescued him from a bad situation). I am being very cognizant of his needs. Right now, he mostly wants to sleep.”
Her guidance for those who have had the loss of a beloved pet:
“Surround yourself with people who understand. Find a pet grief support group. Or start one. And whether you do or don’t try that, let yourself feel the pain. Honor it. It doesn’t really help me when someone tried to tell me, in comfort, ‘you have him/her a good life’ just after they passed. Knowing they mean well. At that moment we just need to grieve. Not busy ourselves or get over it. These, for many of us, are our babies. And certainly our every day. I have heard grown men and every walk of life say they have cried more for their pet than family members. But of course…our pets are our everyday unconditional love. And if we have been giving hospice care to them., there is an even bigger void.”
She strongly suggests, “Please don’t rush to fill that void, whether with activity or another pet. Likewise, please don’t shut yourself off to not having future animals because the pain is too much. It hurts because the love and companionship was so great.”