How to cope with the death of a pet

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How to cope with the death of a pet

Many pet owners are faced with the knowledge they will out live their pets (Picture: Liz Wadey)

Being faced with the loss of a loved one is an extremely difficult process that sadly nearly all of us will have to come to terms with at least once in our lives.

Pet owners are intellectually prepared for eventual loss, as one put it to us. They know they are most likely going to out live their pets and will one day have to face life without them.

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But that doesn’t make the emotions of the grieving process any easier.

To mark National Pet Memorial Day, which is celebrated on the second Sunday of September, metro.co.uk asked several owners for their advice on what helped them to cope.

‘There is no such thing as pet grief, or grief-lite. Loss is loss and grief is grief.’

Steven Rowley has written a novel about the grief of losing a pet (Picture: Steven Rowley)

Steven Rowley’s novel Lily and the Octopus follows the story of dog owner Ted whose dachshund Lily has a tumour.

While fictional, the book has a basis in truth. There was a real Lily and Steven was her doting owner.

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It was the love that Lily showed him that inspired Steven to write about their friendship, he said embracing loss instead of running from it, was the best thing he has done for himself.

‘I was in the room with her when she lost her battle with cancer,’ he told metro.co.uk.

‘The vet left the room and allowed me time alone with her body to say goodbye. I remember, once I got ahold of my initial emotional outburst, that I was very self-conscious about being alone with her.’

Knowing Lily was terminally ill did not prepare Steven for the emotions of the grief he was going to face (Picture: Steven Rowley)

He said he began to become concerned that if he didn’t spend enough time with her body that people would think he was callous or that he if spent too much time people would think he was strange.

‘[But] I wish I hadn’t wasted a second of that time worrying about how it looked,’ he added. ‘Because it did help me. To say goodbye.’

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Steven said he was unsure about whether to keep Lily’s ashes and let the 72-hour window in which he had to decide pass.

Although he sometimes regrets the hesitation, he now has a catalog of memories of their time together that sits on his shelf in place of an urn.

His advice to those facing the grieving process is to ‘feel your emotions fully’.

Steven’s novel Lily and the Octopus was based on his experiences in real-life (Picture: Steven Rowley)

‘There is no such thing as pet grief, or grief-lite. Loss is loss and grief is grief.

‘These are monumentally important relationships in our lives, and yet we are expected to shake off these losses.’

He said he was given a day off work but feels lucky as he expects it is ‘exceedingly rare’.

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‘Pet owners can be some of the most remarkable and resilient people alive. We know the drill, but we don’t love them any less,’ he added,

‘We embrace them fully, lose them, grieve them, and so many of us get to the back of the line and sign up to do it all over again.

‘It takes a brave heart to be an animal lover, and I admire animal people so fully. They are my tribe.’

‘I was able to say a proper goodbye. It’s closure and it helps’

Stella died suddenly, aged three (Picture: Liz Wadey)

Liz Wadey, 55, and husband Brian, 60, were devastated when their Bichon Frisee, Stella, died suddenly aged three in 2013.

The couple had got Stella after their children had left for university. Liz had experienced losing a pet when she was growing up but was shocked at the impact Stella’s death had on their lives.

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Stella’s loss was sudden. Her condition had deteriorated rapidly and she passed away at the vets without Liz or Brian there.

Although it was difficult, Liz decided to see Stella’s body and it was not a decision she regrets.

‘It’s a personal choice for everybody but I needed to see that she wasn’t there because I just couldn’t believe it,’ she told us from her home in Cheshire.

Liz and Brian kept Stella’s ashes and have a box of her possessions (Picture: Liz Wadey)

‘We lost a couple of family members and I didn’t want to do that with family members. I think with a pet you feel totally responsible and you have just got to make sure it is ok.

‘That did help because I was able to say a proper goodbye. It’s closure and it helps.’

She felt angry afterwards and began to irrationally question why she didn’t do more to save Stella’s life.

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‘I couldn’t get past the grief really,’ she said.

‘It was a wave of sadness and loss. I would wake up in the morning crying and I’d been asleep. I thought “what is the matter with me?”

Unlike Steven, Brian and Liz decided to keep her ashes and the urn now sits in their home as well a box of her possessions, including her bed, blanket, toys and collar.

Two years later they decided to get two more dogs (Picture: Liz Wadey)

Two years later the couple took the difficult decision to get two more dogs.

‘It wasn’t to have another animal to replace her,’ Liz explained.

‘I didn’t want to forget but having these dogs is a reminder of her.’

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She now advises others to give themselves time t grieve.

‘It’s hard. Other people who don’t understand may think “Oh, for goodness sake” but it’s you and you need to spend that time.

‘If you don’t go through that grieving process you are always going to be unhappy.’

‘You are never fully prepared even if you are expecting it’

Gabrielle had owned Bazil since she was a small child (Picture: Gabrielle Hurn)

Gabrielle Hurn, 23, hand picked Bazil when she was just seven years old.

The toy poodle was the first thing she saw when she woke up and the last thing at night and would join her everywhere she went.

Her attachment to him was so strong she describes him as her soulmate and says his loss to lung cancer 13 years later was brutal for her family.

‘We grieved for a long time, and even today, it often brings a tear to my eye, he is no longer here,’ she said.

The family had known Bazil was going to die. He passed away on the morning he was going to be put down.

Gabrielle’s family held a full funeral for Bazil (Picture: Gabrielle Hurn)

But, like Steven, Gabrielle said you are never fully prepared even if you are expecting it.

The family had already got a second dog, which did help, but she said it was still ‘extremely difficult’.

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Bazil’s impact of the Hurn’s life can be measured by the funeral the family held to remember him.

‘My whole family and extended family came down,’ Gabrielle said. ‘We have a gravestone at the back of the garden.

Gabrielle hand-picked Bazil when she was seven (Picture: Gabrielle Hurn)

‘We all said what we love most and what we are going to miss and shared our most treasured memories.

‘As he was my dog, I said the most but everyone gave a speech or two just to say goodbye.’

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She advises other pet owners to keep trinkets as a reminder, like a collar or a bed.

‘Always having that with you, you know they have never really passed and they are always part of you,’ she said.

Lily and the Octopus is out in paperback on October 5

Publisher Simon and Schuster UK is holding a pet memorial this weekend to mark National Pet Memorial Day on September 10. For more information read this link.

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