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24th May 2018

Goodbye best friend: how to deal with the loss of a family pet

It isn't easy but you can do it.

Denise Curtin

In August 2017, I lost my puppy, Max.

Words honestly cannot describe how distraught I was in finding out he had passed away. It was the day before my graduation from college, I had just started a new job and I was standing in Heuston Station before boarding my train crying to my dad’s text which broke the news.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a crier, but this news made me weak, lifeless and I could not believe how much my heart was breaking.

Before I lost Max, I never knew the capacity of trauma one can feel from losing an animal. I have had many animals before, some which we lost and others that we had to, unfortunately, give away – but it is true when they say that you connect with different animals the same way you bond with different humans. And before you have one of these close connections, I get how you would think “ah you’ll be fine it is only a dog” but after having an animal that honestly gave me so much love and happiness, I can tell you it is like losing a family member. It is losing a family member.

And if you, are unfortunately like me and have lost an animal, I have some advice to share which will hopefully provide you with comfort and the knowledge that you are not alone.

Firstly, there is no quick way to grieve. Don’t feel like you have to push your feelings aside or try and “get over it” and move on. I spoke to my sister, Katie, before I wrote this article as she too was unconsolable when Max passed away. Katie was closest to our puppy and taught him everything he knew from tricks to demands and she was also with him in his final hours before he passed away on August 23. So, I asked Katie what advice she too could share and she reiterated my words. Grieve.

“Cry and understand that there is no quick way to get over this. What you are feeling is real and it’s due to all the love and compassion you carry.”

Never feel ashamed to cry, speak and talk about your pet, this is a natural process and coming to terms with how you are feeling is vitally important in the process of healing.

Marty Tousley from the Irish Hospice Foundation said:

“It is a myth to think that dealing with the death of a pet is easier than dealing with the death of a human loved one. The loss of a beloved pet can call into play a person’s deepest spiritual beliefs and most profound emotions.”

And just like dealing with the loss of a human, there is no simple or easy way to grieve but there are people available to talk to you and provide guidance and support to help you get through this. Allianz has a team of six registered vet nurses and two consultant vets who are willing and ready to take your call in this difficult time.

Allianz also released a leaflet on dealing with the loss of a pet plus important Irish numbers of support and some guidelines you can follow which you can be found here. Solace Pet Loss Ireland can also provide you with support and guidance during this tough time and they also have a service whereby they will find a guidance counsellor nearby that understands the importance of human animal companionship and the loving connection you had with your pet. You can contact Solace here.

Another way in which the experts believe helps in the process of healing is by holding a ceremony, planting a tree, creating a scrapbook or by keeping something belong to your dog as a way to remember them. When Max passed away, Katie kept on to his collar which she keeps beside her bed.

“Every now and again I give it [the collar] a little kiss or I see it and I think about him and then I smile and this brings me comfort knowing he is always with me” said Katie.

And this is not uncommon, many people hold on to an object to appreciate their animal by and treasure it forever. Jennifer Muldowney knows just how important keepsakes are when it comes to loosing an animal. After tragically loosing her dog of 15-years, Roxy, she set up her own business called Rainbow Bridge Memorials that has a base in Dublin and New York, offering condolence cards, pet conscious cards and memorial jewellery but it is more than just a business as she says:

“It has become an online community. We all know the sadness of pet loss and the difficulty in speaking about it to others who don’t have pets. I started the business because when we lost Roxy, I still wanted her with me every day and wherever I go and with the jewellery I can do that and it helps.”

A post shared by Denise Curtin (@curtindenise) on

Adjusting to life without your pet is not easy and nine months later, I still get the odd intense wave of emotion when I see something that strikes a cord and reminds me of my brief yet magnificent time with my puppy. It isn’t easy but you can do it. I graduated the day after my Max passed away and although I thought it would be impossible, I did it and so can you.

Never forget how lucky you were to have had this animal in your life, how incredibly fortunate they were to have had an owner who gave them so much love and never ever stop reminiscing and speaking about the memories you treasure. Nobody is truly gone until they are forgotten so keep the memory alive, cherish their belongings and remember you have an angel looking down on you.

** If you or someone you know needs help or guidance in grieving the loss of a pet, these numbers are here to help. 

Irish Hospice Foundation – 01 679 3188

Solace – 087 3879938

Allianz – 01 448 48 48 

ISPCA – 043 33 25035