When you lose a pet, take time to heal

Categories: President's Blog

Carmen and StefinI recently had a family tragedy. It actually started weeks ago when I noticed my 18-year-old cat Carmen acting sluggish. She just wasn’t the same. Gone was the kitty I had rescued at eight months old with a litter of nursing kittens.

Now, Carmen was a senior gal sleeping in strange places, not eating her favorite treats. I knew something was happening and it made me nervous. When she stopped eating altogether, I knew it was time for her to be checked out. On a Friday, I packed my cranky, old, tortoiseshell kitty, into her carrier and off I went to the veterinarian. Normally she would meow so loudly that you could hear her a mile away. This time, the car was silent.

Arriving at Domotor’s Animal House on Foothill Avenue in Monrovia, they put us in a nice, stress-free room to wait for the doctor. The wait felt like hours even though it was only a few minutes. Taking Carmen’s vitals, I learned that she had lost a ton of weight, was very dehydrated and was in renal failure. A deep sadness passed through me. Should I have brought her to the doctor sooner? Was there anything I could have done differently? So many thoughts crossed my mind at that point that I almost didn’t hear anything the doctor was saying. Carmen stayed in the hospital that night where the staff worked hard to save her life.

When I visited her the next day, my heart fell to my stomach. To me, she looked worse and I knew that I was facing a horrible decision. Having the quality of life conversation with the doctor, we decided to give her one more night to see if she would rebound. Unfortunately, the next day we discovered she had a tumor and was very weak. She most likely had incurable cancer. It was then that I knew that the kindest and most loving thing I could do was end her suffering that day.

The whole family was with Carmen as she peacefully died. We spent the rest of the day telling each other stories about the quirky kitty, like the time she hissed so much at the babysitter that the sitter was afraid to come out of the bedroom. Or, about the multiple times she got kicked out of the grooming salon for not being nice. Or, how she slept on my son’s head every night and made sure he was safe while they both slept. That night we lit candles, looked at pictures and hugged our other pets. My 8-year-old read a beautiful, age-appropriate book about pet loss that we picked up at the library called “The 10 good things about Barney” by Judith Viorst. He drew pictures and wrote Carmen letters telling her how much she meant to him as well.

CarmenLosing a pet is unfortunately something that all pet owners worry about having to face. It’s so painful that sometimes the thought of losing a pet prevents people from getting one in the first place. Pet loss is a powerful experience and each person grieves differently — from uncontrollable crying, depression and anger to feeling numb. Common feelings when putting a pet to sleep include guilt and second guessing the decision. These emotions are intense and can last a very long time.

While people are often sympathetic about pet loss, they don’t always know what to say. You often hear things like “it’s only an animal,” “get over it already” or “just go get a new one.” People need to be given the time to process the loss the way they need to. You never know what an animal has meant to someone and how it has impacted their lives. The best thing you can do is just listen, be patient and be a good friend.

Carmen taught my entire family to care and love, and we plan on honoring her by making a donation to the shelter in Arizona where we adopted her. When we are ready, we will adopt someone new, not to replace Carmen, but to experience the human-animal bond with a new family member.

If you are experiencing grief from losing a pet, consider going to a pet loss support group, talk to your veterinarian, call us at the animal shelter, or research the many ways to deal with the issue of pet loss.


About Julie Bank

Julie Bank is President/CEO of the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA. Her animal welfare career spans almost thirty years working in leadership roles in local and national nonprofit and governmental animal control organizations in New York, Arizona, Oklahoma City and California. She is a nationally recognized speaker and writer on animal issues, and has traveled extensively educating and supporting organizations and communities with their animal welfare efforts. Each blog post originally appeared as part of Julie's weekly column for the Pasadena Star News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune.