Dear Dr. Kerr,
I have a lovely friend in Sam. He has been with me since he was a kitten 16 years ago and I am afraid I will need to part with him soon as my vet says his kidneys are failing quickly. I hate to lose him since I love him so much but I feel silly getting all choked up over a cat. Can you help?
Loving pet parent
I am so sorry Sam is feeling poorly and I am more sorry that you will soon have to experience the feeling of loss when your beloved companion leaves. The hardest thing about living with pets is their lives are too short. They mature into such wonderful companions and then in what seems to be an instant, they are gone.
The loss of a pet is very traumatic. You have provided Sam with all the necessities of life; a good home, food ,medical care and most importantly your love. You have developed a special bond with him over the 16 years and I am sure this bond was forged within the first week of him being at home. When Sam is gone you will have lost a loving, affectionate member of your family who always listened when you talked, cuddled when needed and related to you as a close friend or more. In return for all this he may have asked for some treats but not much else. It is completely understandable and perfectly normal you would get choked up about his impending absence.
Experiencing grief when we lose a pet is normal and should be expected. We will cry, feel lost without him, the world will not be as bright. These feelings may last a few days or a lot longer. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, we take on average 10 months to deal with the loss of a pet and some of us take a lot longer. Those of us who feel the greatest sense of loss are the ones who have developed the strongest bond to our furry companions. Pets give us unconditional love and support. When a pet passes, we feel the loss of that support deeply.
Often times when we feel such loss, there are few people who truly understand what we are going through and often, as you mention we feel silly talking about our feelings. Finding “safe “ people to talk to is important. Someone who feels about their pet as you do about Sam may be able to help in this impending sad time. If needed there are Grief Support Councilors that can help people on an individual basis with this most tough time.
Treasure the time you have left with Sam, decide when his quality of life is poor, make the decision to say good bye and then, for him as well as yourself, grieve. He deserves your tears, your heartache and then your gradual acceptance of your loss knowing you will keep the memory of Sam always in your heart.