Cats, Dogs

Coping with Loss: Unique Ways to Memorialize a Family Pet

Dear Readers: Today’s post discusses the death of companion animals, which may be upsetting for some folks—especially those who have very recently suffered a loss of their own. If this topic is too painful for you to think about right now, then please consider perusing this entry at a later date. Meanwhile, you can click here for a light-hearted list of ways to celebrate National Dog Day, here for an irreverent essay about preventing cat hairballs, or here for a hilarious recap of Muenster Milling’s Annual Halloween Costume Contest.


Generally speaking, humans outlive their pets. It’s simple biology; cats, dogs, horses and most other kinds of critters just naturally have a shorter lifespan than the average human. Knowing this fact doesn’t make it any easier to accept though, and coping with the death of a pet can often be just as difficult as coping with the death of a fellow human. However, just as humans have certain rituals and traditions for remembering friends and loved ones who have passed away, there are several ways to memorialize a late pet, as well!

Keep a Picture (and other Mementos)

These days, most pet owners have at least one or two pictures of their companion animals on their cellphones or tablets—and those of us with particularly photogenic fur-babies may have one or two dozen pictures saved on their electronic devices! While it’s nice to be able to view these photos with a tap of a button or swipe of a finger, there’s something a little more reverent about a physical, “hard copy” of a photo in a nice frame. After losing your beloved pet, you may find it comforting to keep a framed picture on your mantle, bureau, or some other dedicated space. You’ll still be able to see your friend every day and the picture can be a conversation-starter whenever a guest notices the portrait or comments on it.

Don’t worry about choosing a photo that makes the subject look “regal,” “majestic,” or even “dignified!” If your favorite picture of Layla depicts her sleeping upside down with her tongue hanging out, then go with that one. If a snapshot of Buck lying in a mud puddle never fails to make you smile, then use it. And if that photo of Cookie sitting in the passenger seat of your car while wearing sunglasses and a hat seems to capture her personality perfectly, then let that be her legacy. You don’t even need to choose just one picture; frames that accommodate more than one photo are easy to come by, and stitching a few different images together is a fairly simple task if you have access to photo-editing software.

As far as mementos go, different people are comfortable with different things, so pick something that feels right to you. Many folks choose to have their pets cremated after death and retain the ashes, but if you’re not “okay” with having Fido’s remains in your home, then that’s fine. Holding onto his collar, license tag, or even a favorite toy or blanket can be just as significant. Combine the treasured item with a framed photo, and you’ll be able to create a nice little display to remember the friend that you’ve lost.

Plant a Tree

If your pet was particularly fond of green grass, warm sunshine and a nice breeze, then a tree dedicated to him might be the perfect tribute. You can find native saplings at most nurseries and garden centers, and store employees will usually be happy to provide you with information about keeping your purchase healthy. As the tree matures and grows, it will be a steady, living reminder of your pet, as well as a symbol of how your relationship with them helped you grow as a person. Planting the tree in an area of your yard where your pet liked to sit or rest can be especially meaningful, but do take the tree’s adult size into consideration before you commit to this idea!

Make a Donation in their Honor

This can be as simple as dropping off her uneaten food and gently used blankets at your local animal shelter, or as elaborate as giving a monetary gift to your favorite animal-themed charity. If you’re donating items, you can rest assured that even though they’re no longer needed by their original owner, someone else will very much appreciate having them. And if you choose to donate money, you’ll help enable the charity in question to provide food, shelter and medical attention for critters in need. Speaking of other animals…

When You’re Ready, Consider Showing Another Animal the Same Love and Kindness You Showed to your Late Pet.

Right after losing a companion animal, the idea of even looking at another dog or cat, let alone bringing one into your home, may be extremely off-putting. You might even bristle at the suggestion, because how could another dog possibly replace your beloved Ranger? You don’t WANT another cat, you want Whiskers!

But that’s not the point. Of course the new-to-you pet won’t “replace” your late pet; animals are unique individuals, just like people. However, think about all of the affection and warmth that you and your friend once shared. The adoration that you had for your late pet will likely never fade, but you’ve still got a lot of love to give, and Pepper’s absence may create what feels like a “void” in your life. In this case, the solution may very well be to take in another animal…especially one from a rescue or shelter who has never before had a permanent home or been part of a family.

Bottom line: if you’ve taken time to grieve and you truly think that you’re ready to become a “human companion” again, then please don’t feel like doing so is betraying your late pet. Again, you’re not replacing her; chances are, Pearl will always have a piece of your heart. But what better way to honor Pearl’s memory than to take great care of Jade?

None of us can see into the future, which means that none of us know exactly how long we have with our pets. While there are things that you can do to improve an animal’s odds for living a long, healthy life (including giving them plenty of love and attention, feeding them a healthy diet and seeing to it that they get plenty of exercise) nothing is guaranteed. It’s critical, then, to treasure every moment that you have with your pet. Fluffy won’t be on this Earth forever, but chances are, your memories of her will be around for as long as you live.

Photo courtesy of Hefin Owen on Flickr

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