Have you ever had a pet? If you have, you might have experienced that when they die it can be heart wrenching and leave a big gap in your world - whether it’s your first childhood pet, or your 4th family pet, it still hurts. As a child it might also have been your first experience of death and - if it was a dog or a cat - they might have been around and part of your family for as long as you could remember.
But what do you say, write or do when someone loses a loved family pet? What did your friends and loved ones to say or do for you? What do you wish they’d said or done? What would you want to say or do for a friend or loved one who’s lost a loved pet? Today we’re going to focus on some ideas about what to say, do and write when someone’s loved family pet dies.
As a family, we have had some experience of this. We had several pets growing up - from goldfish we’d won at the local fair, to hamsters, rabbits, chickens, a cat who was quite fiery but had the most gorgeous litters of kittens, and several dogs. Some pets sadly didn’t live with us for very long - like the fish - whilst others became part of the family - like the dogs and particularly our dad’s gorgeous dog.
She joined our family when we were in our early 20s and lived with dad until she was about 16. As is the experience with so many people, she was truly part of our family and got a huge amount of attention on walks because she was so beautiful. They say that animals promote well-being and she certainly did. So much so that at times, we actually questioned whether she came first to dad.
It was incredibly sad and strange for us to visit dad when she was no longer around, but for dad her loss was huge and she left a big gap in his life. Her ashes still have pride of place on his fireplace, her picture is on his mantelpiece and it was 5 years before he even considered having another dog. We still all talk about her and remember her very fondly.
What do you even say or do at a time like that?
Here are 5 ways to offer your comfort to someone who loses a pet;
1. Take it seriously, whatever animal has died. A fish or a hamster might not mean a lot to you, but to a small child or to someone they lived with they could have meant a lot and it could feel like a big loss.
2. If you don’t know what to say, say something simple like ‘I’m sorry for your loss’, ‘I know how much (name) meant to you’, ‘I’m here for you’.
3. If you want to say more, consider adding something you liked about their pet - and use their pet’s name - or a comforting memory, line from a poem, saying or prayer, or some words of comfort from your heart.
4. Send them a text, a card, a photo or a gift to let them know you care and that you’re there for them.
5. Give them a hug - sometimes a hug says more than words ever can.
Overall, be mindful that the loss of pets which have become part of the family - particularly dogs and cats - can be very upsetting and sometimes quite traumatic - especially if they have had to be put down or have died as result of an accident. The death of a loved pet can also have extra significance if someone has experienced other significant losses recently - from losing a partner, relative, loved one or colleague, to losing their home, a job, their health, a job or any other losses that have rocked their world. So tread gently and remind them that it’s important that they look after themselves and that you’re there for them.
If a child has lost a pet - think about how you’re going to mark the occasion (e.g. have a funeral for it or something else), how you’re going to talk about it and what you’re going to say if they ask what happens when you die.
There are some great resources online that can prepare you to answer this question, and you can also ask your GP or school for any resources they might have.
Sending a Box of Hugs is a lovely way of sending a hug or when you simply don’t know what to say. We think it’s a great way of letting someone know you care, that their loss is important and that you’re there for them, particularly when you can’t be there in person.
Choose one of our ready-made Box of Hugs from our bereavement collection, or put your own gift together with our ‘build your own’ option - simply choose a box, select your gifts, add a card, write your message and we’ll do the rest to get your hug delivered straight to their door.
With love and hugs,
Lucy, Anna and Sophie xox
Sisters and Box of Hugs Founders