When you bring a pet into your life, they become part of the family. You get to take care of them every day, share moments together, and in return, they give you unconditional love. The hope is for this relationship to continue as long as possible. There will come a time when you will have to say goodbye to them and must deal with the loss of your pet.
I have been so fortunate to have had lots of pets over the years, ranging from dogs, fish, and a cat. My childhood pets include Rassie, Diamond, Bennie, Boots, to name a few.
As an adult, I always wanted the companionship of a fur buddy. When I got my first “real” job and apartment, I soon adopted a little schnauzer-mix puppy named Silver. Fast forward 15 years. Silver and I are still together, but through the years, our family has grown to add a husband, two sons, and a few Betta fish.
So many great memories and time spent together, but what happens when it is time to say goodbye to one of your pet family members?
Earlier this year, we lost our pet Betta fish, Pete. He had been with us for about a year. It was a sad time for our family, especially our 7-year-old. We also realize we have fewer days ahead of us than behind us with Silver. She is on meds for seizures and dealing with all the issues facing an almost 16 years old dog. How could we find a way to go on without our beloved Pete the Fish, and how can we prepare for when it is time for Silver to leave us? Here are some tips to prepare for the loss of a pet and to deal with the loss once it has happened.
1. Take pictures
Even before selfies became popular, we always tried to take family pictures. Just like when there is a new human baby, we take pictures whenever a new pet joins the family too. We consider our pets part of the family, so we include them in our pictures and family videos too. It helps to capture those special moments and everyday ones too. I love looking back at old photo albums and reminiscing on times past. It is nice to snap a few shots with your pets as well. This way, they will be included in your family history.
2. Celebrate Gotcha Day and/or Birthdates
We may not always know a pet’s “birthdate,” but we can celebrate the day we brought them home, also known as their “gotcha day.” There may not be a big party or a cake, but we acknowledge the day and usually give a special treat. Once they are no longer with you, you can always remember that day. Mark it on your calendar and reflect on the special times you shared with your pet baby.
3. Have a ceremony
After the initial sadness or shock of the loss of a pet, I found it is so helpful to have a small ceremony to celebrate their life. Growing up, we buried our dogs in the yard and marked their grave with their name on a marker. When Pete passed on, we each gathered around and shared a memory of his time with our family before giving him a “burial at sea.” One of our sons used to play hide-and-seek with him, while I shared how he enjoyed watching me cook because his tank was near the kitchen. We had our little boys draw pictures of him to share. For us, it was a good closure to spend that time together, focusing on the loss of our pet fish.
4. Add a new family member
When you are ready, go ahead and welcome a new pet. You can never replace the pet you lost, but it can do your heart good to share your home with a new family member. A few months after Pete went fishing heaven, we added our newest fish, Oscar. We are looking forward to getting to know him as we did, Pete.
We never know how many days any of us have together, and that holds true for your fur babies and pets. Make the most of the time you have together, take some pictures along the way, and create memories that last. When they pass on, have a little celebration of life for them and do not forget their birthday or gotcha day. Once you are ready, I encourage you to share your heart and home with a new pet to make some new memories with.