Animals and Dying, Death and Grief

Question: My beloved cat is dying. My heart is broken. What do you think happens when animals die? Talk about dealing with grief from the loss of a pet.

(The first part of this question was imbedded in a letter which also spoke of the person’s deceased father. The second part came recently from this web site.)

I think, just like people come into our lives for reasons we may not even be aware of, so do animals. Therefore it seems perfectly reasonable to me that your cat of fifteen years was here in part to help you with your father's dying. Little Cat sounds like a special companion and will be greatly missed.

I believe that animals go through the dying process much like humans do, withdrawing, sleeping more (although who sleeps more than a cat normally does?), and eating less and less. I'm not sure animals have the same emotional connection to living that we humans do so they may not fear death as we do. Death is just another change for them. Saying what is in your heart, touch, and holding (if that is something the animal liked when it was healthy), are important. Love as you know how to show it is comforting.

I recently had to make the decision to euthanize one of our cats. Oh what a difficult choice that was yet comforting to know that pain and a difficult death were avoided. If you have to make that decision be with Little Cat, hold her while the Vet gives her the injection, and love her through the experience. If I don't sound to "far out" I would ask your Dad to meet Little Cat and take care of her on the Other Side. Even if your Dad did not like animals when he was alive, being on the Other Side, he will now have a better understanding and appreciation for all of life.

Many of us love and care for pets as we would our children. The idea of a barn cat or working dog has been replaced with pets that live in our houses, sleep in our beds, and fill a huge place in our hearts. The death of a beloved pet can set grief in motion that is equal to if not greater than our grief for a person.

One facet of grief is that the depth of our emotional involvement with the object lost correlates to the depth of our grief. A personal example is that I grieved more for one of my best friends, a cat who slept with me every night, who shared my tears and joy daily, than I grieved for my step grandmother who I saw only twice a year. Looked at in this light, of course we will grieve deeply for the death of an loved animal. It is generally those persons who have not had a close relationship with an animal who find it difficult to empathize and support a person in their grief for their pet. As with other aspects of life seek the company of people who you can relate to and to people who “get” you. The others don’t matter.

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