When a friend’s beloved pet dies, you want to say the right thing… but the wrong words come out. We’ve got a few suggestions of what to say and what to avoid.
In a corner of my living room sits Shelby’s toy box. Its full of the usual bits and bobs; expensive store bought toys, bits of jute twine, cat-nip mice, bottle caps, and her all-time favorite, a tiny bushy haired troll doll that she would proudly parade around the house while uttering those throaty, guttural sounds known only to a pet parent of felines. She was a key part of my family for 16 years and I miss her terribly.
What I find interesting is that to date, not one of my other furry room-mates has touched her stuff. Is it respect for the former head of our household? Do they think she is coming back? Are they aware of my sense of loss? That a full blown looting of this bounty of goodies has not yet happened does cause me to wonder why critters seem so capable of respectfully mourning alongside us while friends, family and co-workers seem to stumble so badly when it comes to delivering on the comfort factor.
Some tips for those at a loss for words?
Let’s start with what NOT to say to someone who has just lost their pet:
- You just have to get over it. Why are you so upset? It’s only an animal.
Grieving is an experience where rules don’t apply. We know we need to work at getting over the death of our pet however we don’t need to feel guilty for our grief or feel that it should be time-bound.
- Were you thinking of getting rid of his toys/bed/leash /crate? These things are so expensive to buy new and I sure could use them.
These items are still tremendous visual cues to special moments spent with our pets. They remind us of our walks, trips, one-on-one time. Let the individual make the offer to you when they’re ready to do so.
- Are you going to get him stuffed/buried in the backyard?
Pets are warm, loving companions with unique, quirky personalities that entertain and delight us for years. To ask about the disposal of his/her remains disrespects this special relationship and tells the owner you just don’t understand the significance of the loss.
- Go get another dog/cat/pet. The shelters are full them!
As with a human loss, a beloved pet is irreplaceable and to suggest a substitute will suffice, is ignorant at best. Pet parents are a special breed unto themselves and they are highly aware of rescue shelters and that other animals are in need. Allow them the time to find one another.
- You had him a long time – be thankful for that.
We are thankful, but it wasn’t long enough. I can’t think of any other relationship where one loves, cares and nurtures a creature for 15 years, then has to say good bye. I had one of my cats from the time I was 23 till just before my 40 birthday. What a huge portion of one’s lifetime to share with one furry little constant!
Looking for something that will truly offer comfort and support to a grieving pet parent? Here are some tips:
- I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?
It’s so important to recognize that the pet’s parent feels absolutely lost and an offer of support – whether accepted or not – lets them know that you get it. Be sincere and be prepared to honor your offer.
- I’m here if you want to talk about it.
When I lost one of my younger cats suddenly, I was surprised at how comforting it was to talk about him and share photos. It kept him alive and digging out all the old photos reminded me that he was so loved, totally indulged and completely happy during his two short years.
- Do you remember when…?
If you’re close to the individual, you have probably spent a fair bit of time with their pet. By sharing your memories and stories you tell the grieving parent that these experiences were important to you too and remind them that they’re not alone.
- You did everything you could do.
When a pet is lost to age or illness, owners want to believe they did everything possible to pro-long the inevitable. We never want to feel we gave up on our fur-kid and it’s important those offering support remind us that we did right by our pet.
- Send a card or make a donation.
Seek out a relevant cause and make a donation in the pet’s name. When I took Shelby to a nearby clinic for cremation they sent me a wonderful letter to advise that a donation had been made in Shelby’s honor to a local animal shelter. That my little girl had triggered this donation gave me such an amazing boost.
Mary Simpson is an animal-loving writer and communications professional. A soft touch for anything stray, she shares her century home with an eclectic collection of rescues that include orange tabby Chico, tuxedo Simon, and jet black Owen. She enjoys running, politics, exploring local wine regions and is an avid supporter of the “shop local” movement.