You don’t remember all the details of your life when you first got your pet, because that was five, 10 or 20 years ago. You or your kids were small children; you were in school or had a completely different job. You remember that there were long down-phases and up-phases in your own life since then. And you know that whether you were up or down, your pet was glad to see you, wanting food, hugs, play, and sometimes needing special care.
Now, because animals age much faster than most humans, your pet seems terminally ill and in great pain or a deep fog. You’re faced with three decisions: whether, when and how to have your pet “put to sleep”; what to do with the remains and whether to commemorate the passing; and how to handle your grief.
There are various ways to decide when to euthanize your pet: when the pet’s really bad days outnumber the OK ones; when the vet sees no hope for recovery from a disease, and the animal seems to be in pain practically all the time; or when you can’t bear any longer to see your old friend in such suffering. Like in the conflict over heroic measures to keep humans alive, you may simply refuse to have your pet “put down.” If you decide to go ahead, today most people want to be with their pets when they go. Vets perform euthanization with drugs such as a sedative and sodium pentobarbital.
There are pet cemeteries, crematories and other services connected with handling the remains and any ceremony you may wish to have. “Cremain” ashes may be buried, kept in an urn in your house, or scattered on land. Simply burying your pet is illegal in some areas because of the potential attraction to scavenging animals; if you do this, it’s important to bury it three or more feet down. Today, most ceremonies are informal, within families.
Dealing with your grief is probably the toughest question. Society in general does not recognize grief over an animal’s death as a “big deal,” but for many pet lovers, IT IS A VERY BIG DEAL. Grief over a pet’s death often goes through major stages similar to those that grief over human death does, such as denial, anger and ultimate acceptance. There are pet grief hotlines and support groups, and even psychologists and social workers who specialize in helping you through such grief. Web sites with helpful information are www.pet-loss.net, www.aplb.org, www.RainbowBridge. org, and www.vetmed.ucdavis. edu/ccab/petloss.html.
In honor of a friend or relative’s loss of a pet, you may want to contribute to an animal charity rather than send flowers.