Many of us who keep pets treat them like our family members. We love them so much that we celebrate their birthdays with specially made treats, dog parties and walks. Some of us may even bring our dogs to pet cafes and spas for their special day! Pets are often regarded as 'children' of the family - a lot of young couples are opting to keep pets rather than have children.
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that we tend to outlive our pets. When these beloved family members pass on, it is normal to feel intense grief and sorrow. Some people take weeks to recover, while others may take years. It is important to deal with these feelings in order to come to terms with reality.
Most people go through 5 stages of grief. It is important to recognise these stages and learn to deal with your emotions, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes.
Stage 1: Denial
Some people bring in their aged pets with complaints of appetite and weight loss. They know that their aged companions are not well. Some of them delay the visit to the vet, thinking that Snowy will 'recover' on her own. But after physical examination and detailed blood works, it is usually found that Snowy is not very well at all. When the owners are told of the seriousness of the illness, they often cry and exclaim, "But Snowy never falls sick! She has not been to the vet for any problems before!" Denial is a type of defence mechanism as we try to shield ourselves from painful truths.
Stage 2: Anger
"It is all your fault! Why do you keep giving Snowy all those treats!? Why did you not bring her to routine vet check ups? WHY?"
After we fail to shield the painful truth, we begin to feel angry. This is when we try to find fault and blame others or even ourselves for the condition that our pet is suffering from. Some even lash out at the vet for making a wrong diagnosis. This anger is a result of guilt. We feel responsible for the state of our pet's illness and we wish that we had done something about it earlier.
Stage 3: Bargaining
This is the 3rd stage of emotion in the process of grief - to do something in exchange for our pets' recovery. "Maybe if I changed Snowy's diet now, she will get better? Maybe if I give her this medicine, she willl be fine?" We ask for a higher power to give us a miracle. We become hopeful and seek other options. Some bring their pets for second opinions and other treatment options. If your finances permit, it is always good to seek other treatment options with an open mind.
Stage 4: Depression
This is when the reality sets in. We become deeply saddened. This is an important stage as it allows us time to face the hard truth. We can cry, seek a listening ear and pour out all our feelings. Some of us prefer to write about it in our journal or compose a poem as a dedication to our beloved pet. Whatever manner of expression you choose, this is the most crucial stage for us to recover from the pain and grief.
Stage 5: Acceptance
When we have bravely confronted our sorrow and grief, this is when we begin to accept the truth - our beloved companion is no longer with us. We will still feel a pinch of sadness as we look at the photos and remember the happy times we spent with our pets. However, we will have the strength to be thankful for the wonderful times shared with our pet. This is also when you might consider adopting another pet as your new family member.
It is important to allow yourself to go through these five stages of emotions before deciding to keep another pet. It is important to remember that each animal is special and different from the other. Do not rush to find a 'substitute' when you are still in grief because you need time to heal in order to love another again.