Grieve as you would if you had lost a person, experts say
Rachael and David Hanel, of Madison Lake, made a rule not long after the death of their first dog. From then on, they would always have two pups in the house. So that if one died, the house wouldn’t be as barren and silent as it was after their beloved Kahlil, a 14-year-old whippet, died in 2013.
“He was such a good dog,” Rachael Hanel recalls. “Just so sensitive and sweet, kind of passive. He loved running and he loved walking. We would take him out on 4- or 5- or 6-mile runs and he would do just fine. Every day we’d get out in the yard, throw a Frisbee and have him catch it. He was really athletic.”
The Hanels now enjoy two whippets, Nina, 6, and Trophy, 4 ½ years old. “Boy, it was super hard when we lost Kahlil. It was my first dog, so I’d never had a dog before and there’s always something special about your first dog. It’s just me and my husband; we don’t have kids. At the time we lost Kahlil, he was our only pet, so when he died, the house was so quiet and empty. When Kahlil was alive, it was a home but when he died it became a house. I didn’t even want to be there. We took a lot of day trips.”
Wendy June, owner and founder of Mankato Pet Cremation, advises pet lovers to cremate their pet’s remains so you have something to hold onto forever. She also recommends pet owners hold a closure ritual such as the spreading of their pet’s remains, release a biodegradable balloon, keep talking about your feelings and join a pet loss/grief support group. When the time is right, adopt again.
Ken Ambrose, veterinarian at Minnesota Valley Pet Hospital, said there is no right time frame for when to adopt a new pet. “It will be different for everybody but you will know when you are ready,” Ambrose said. “You must also realize that a new pet will not be a replacement. And even if it’s the same breed and same lineage, it will not be a carbon copy of your lost companion.”
June and Ambrose agree that losing a pet is very similar to losing a person. Maryann Nelson, veterinarian at North Mankato Animal Hospital, said for most of us, some time needs to pass to lessen the pain and for our hearts to open to a new pet. “Mourning the loss of a pet is similar to a person in that they were our companion. They gave and received love and they all have their own personalities. That is what we miss when they are gone, just like a person.”
Nelson is accustomed to comforting people about a lost pet. “I tell them it is normal to miss their pet and feel sad and lonely. I encourage them to tell me stories about their pet. I tell them my favorite memories of their pets, too. I also tell them about the joy a pet brings us. When they leave, they feel better because now they are focusing on the happy times.”