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Sully, Big Sam and Zooey, all members of the Mayor's Alliance family who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. 

Coping with Pet Loss: Celebrate Your Pet’s Life

Editor’s Note: This article is more subjective than our usual Out of the Cage articles. Saying goodbye to a cherished family member is a universal but unique experience for anyone who has lost a pet. No two experiences are identical, but feelings of loss, grief, and healing often are shared by every pet parent who has lost a pet. We hope this article provides some comfort to those who might be facing such a loss or are struggling with the devastating aftereffects of having lost their beloved companion. 

Today I received my beloved beagle Sully’s ashes. Sully crossed the Rainbow Bridge earlier this month following a heroic battle with cancer. The decision to humanely end his life was mine. But Sully helped guide me toward the decision. He let me know when it was time to say goodbye, just as he had guided me toward a decision six years ago to adopt an eight-year-old beagle from Animal Care Centers of NYC

I was fortunate in that my struggle with the decision to let him go didn’t linger. Sully was lively, energetic, and happy until he wasn’t. I am confident that the medical care he received throughout his illness was competent and sensitive to his quality of life. We shared a good life together. And it was important to me that when his quality of life diminished, that I could give him that final gift of release when it was an act of love, and not one of despair.

After the death of a pet, uncertainty and guilt are two of the most common emotions that arise. Could I, or should I, have done more to prevent his or her death? Could I have changed the outcome? Did I act too hastily, or did I wait too long? I’ve heard it said, “Better five minutes too early for me that five minutes too late for my pet.” I rely heavily upon that credo, because it’s powered by compassion.

Grief quickly becomes the consuming emotion. Although grief is a healthy and normal reaction to loss, it’s painful. And we often feel compelled to suppress or outrun it. Don’t. However you experience grief, it’s a necessary part of the journey to healing. There’s no magic bullet to avoid grief. It’s actually a testament to the depth of the love you feel for your pet. Embrace it. Let it settle in your heart. And feel it transform sadness into cherished memories. Because it is there, with you, that your dearly loved companion will remain for the rest of your life.

There’s no to-do list to speed the journey to healing, but there are ways to enhance the journey. A resource which I have found helpful is Coping with the Loss of a Companion Animal, a little booklet published by Gateway Services, Inc., that carries a wealth of supportive and comforting advice.

Among the ideas presented in the booklet are ways to celebrate your pet’s life, such as having a memorial service, saving mementos that remind you of the joys of your time with your companion, and creating a photo collage or scrapbook that chronicles your life together. 

Deciding to bring another pet into the home after a loss is a very personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer. Many people choose to honor their departed pet by offering a home to another rescue pet, whether by adopting or fostering. Some people take that step right away. Others choose to wait until they feel they have sufficiently mourned their loss. Again, each person, as each companion pet, is different.

For now, I’m keeping a photo of Sully nearby so I can see his sweet face throughout the day. His ashes will rest in a special place in my home among those of his furry siblings who crossed the Rainbow Bridge before him. And his precious soul has already curled up in my heart where it will remain forever.

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” – Helen Keller

Additional sources of pet loss inspiration and support you might find helpful

The Legend of the Rainbow Bridge

A Therapist Offers Advice on Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Bideawee Pet Loss Support

Tufts Pet Loss Support Hotline

Cornell Pet Loss Support Hotline

How to Honor a Deceased Pet


Real Talk Therapy

Pet Loss and the Story of Charlie