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How to Cope With Mourning a Pet and How Pets Mourn Us Too

The only downside to all relationships is that, at some point, we must say good-bye, however unwillingly. We all know that we are all on loan to each other, until the day comes when circumstance or mortality itself, parts us from those who mean something to us. This is especially poignant with pets as they are with us for such a relatively short time, their life spans too brief, but the love we feel for them can sometimes be greater than for most others in our lives. People who have not had a close relationship with another species, sometimes sneer, 'child replacement,' but for a child, their furry friend is just that, a real friend, a nanny sometimes and playmate. And as adults who may raise an animal from infancy, the pet does regard us as a parental figure, we teach them about the world, see the wonder, pleasure and excitement reflected in their new eyes, as they see their first bird, their first tree, smell wonderingly their first flower. There can be no doubt for the guardians of a furry-hearted friend that the bond we can have with them is unlike any other. A cat or a dog, or a horse or a pig or a parrot, will give their hearts entire to us and trust us with unstinting devotion, their intelligence, though different to ours is still great and they care for us with every fibre of their furry or feathery selves. Inevitably we cannot keep them with us forever, we learn to acknowledge that one day they will go. Pets themselves often seem to have a psychic sense of this, sensing when the end of their lives has come and trying in their own ways to say good bye to us, by giving us even more attention than usual. One dog owner I know, has told me that her dog definitely seemed to psychically sense the end before even the vets did. This vivacious mongrel of 12 years old, would not let her human friend out of her sight for that last week and kept trying to put her paws around the owners waist, to hug her tightly. And some may feel as Rudyard Kipling did:

The Power of the Dog by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find-it's your own affair-
But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone-wherever it goes-for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long-
So why in-Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

dog and man

This must be an especially sad time for parents, watching their children experiencing bereavement for perhaps, the first time. For children death is something unfathomable, beyond their understanding, however it may be explained to them, they feel immortal, death makes no sense, it does not compute. But when it comes to their pets, they see, feel the loss and can feel it deeply. But with gentle guidance, they can be helped to get over this loss, heal and learn something valuable about life, never to take those we love for granted, time with them is always precious.

So should we protect our children or ourselves by refraining from owning pets, so that they or we never have to feel the very real pain of loss over losing George the cat or Lucy the dog? This is what a little girl of nine said:

"When Snowflake my kitten died, I was very upset and cried," Luella told me, her serious eyes denoting the depth of thought she was putting into her words, "and I still love Snowflake very very much, but when Daddy brought Cuddles, my new ginger kitten home, I liked him too. After a while I loved him as much as Snowflake but different and now I'm careful to play with Cuddles, when I'm not at school, because I know he'll go to heaven one day too. Daddy says we should always make the most of people we love."

For children, the thought that their furry friends will go to heaven, whatever their parents may believe, is a real comfort, otherwise children, especially small ones, may worry that the pet will get lost after death, be lonely or scared. This is a true story of a little girl and her dog friend that took place in the early summer of 2008, sent to me by her mother.

'This is one of the sweetest things that has ever happened to me. I have no idea who sent it, but there is someone with a beautiful heart working in the dead letter postal service. Our 12-year-old dog, Lambert, died last month. The day following his death, my little girl, 4 years old, Sasha, was crying and saying how much she missed Lambert. She asked me if she could write a letter to God to help Lambert, so that when he arrived in heaven, God would know who he was. I told her that she could and so Sasha told me to write these exact words' :

Dear God,

Will you please look after my dog? He died yesterday and is now with you in heaven. I miss him very much. I am very happy that you let me have him as my very own doggy, even though he got ill.

I hope you will play games with him. He likes to play ball games and to go on long walks. I am posting you a picture of him so that when you see him, you will know who he is. You will know that he is my friend and dog. I really miss him so much.

Love Sasha.

'Sasha put lots of stamps on the envelope, it would take a lot of them to get to heaven, it being a long way, she said. I put a photo of Sasha and Lambert in the envelope and wrote the address, 'God in Heaven,' with our return address on the back. Sasha posted the letter that afternoon and she waited. I told her God might not have time to answer her, as he might be so busy looking after his new friend Lambert. The next day, we got a parcel back, addressed to Sasha in an unknown hand, wrapped in pretty shiny silver paper. Inside was a book on coping with pet bereavement and the photo of Lambert and Sasha. Along with these was a letter that read' :

Dear Sasha,

Lambert arrived very safely in heaven. Your sending me his photograph was a big help. I realised who Lambert was the moment I saw him. Lambert is not ill anymore. His spirit is here with me in heaven, just the same as he is in your heart. Lambert loved being your dog. He will always be your friend. As we don't need our bodies in heaven, I do not have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and so that you will always have something to remember Lambert by.

Thank you so much for your beautiful letter and thank your mummy for helping you to write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mummy you have. I chose her specially for you. I send my blessings to you every day and always remember that I love you very much. So that you remember, I'm easy to find, I am wherever there is love.

Love God

Sasha was greatly comforted by this, of course and she has been able to grieve for Lambert in a healthy way and in a year or two, her mother will find her a new canine friend to love. Sasha is beginning to understand the cycle of life and death, which is always helpful in fully appreciating the gift of life.

young boy and dog

But another comfort for those who are grieving for the loss or imminent loss of an animal through sickness, is what mediums and psychics tell us of life after death. A well-known psychic medium has said:

"We do not die, our bodies alone die. Our energy simply vibrates on a different frequency. When a medium wishes to get in touch with someone psychically who has left their body, she brings her energy frequency up and the spirit lowers theirs and so they can communicate."

Pets also grieve and feel great loss just as we do, Sarah, a dog owner of long standing recounts:

"I had two dogs, they hadn't been brought up together, I had rescued Mortimer from Battersea dog's home. He was a very handsome dog and my female mongrel, Bluebell, also rescued years before, was delighted by him, though it angered her that he didn't find her attractive, as she'd had a hysterectomy. They were very close friends and really grew to love each other, only ever quarrelling over who got most at din dins. When Bluebell got cancer and was taken to the vet's to be 'put down' to end her suffering, I returned home without her. Mortimer searched the house for her, the garden and sniffed me, trying to get some clue from her scent of where she was. That night, alone in his basket for two, Mortimer howled, bayed all night. I tried to cuddle him and comfort him, but whenever I mentioned Bluebells' name to anyone in conversation, Mortimer pricked up his ears, stared at me imploringly and began to howl. Mortimer managed still to enjoy his life, his walks and cuddles but the spring left his step, he was never truly as happy again. But the night Bluebell died, I did see flashes of light outside my living room window that trailed to the French windows that lead into my garden. I did feel that Bluebell was trying to tell me psychically, that even though I'd left her body at the vet's, her spirit had come home. Sadly Mortimer did not sense this too." When someone a pet has loved has died, the pet cannot accept this, has no way to understand and will assume the person or fellow animal has got lost. The only way round this is if the animal is allowed to see the dead body, in the same way that relatives gather round the bed of someone as they die or that has just died, to say good-bye and truly try to comprehend that the person has gone. If a dog is allowed to see their friend's body, in a gentle way, they will then certainly understand and not perhaps stray, looking for what they believe to be their lost and longed for loved one. This way, the pet has a chance to mourn and recover from their loss."

Grey Friar's Bobby is a legendary dog, who felt as much, it seems as all dogs do when their owners die. In 1858 a dog's friend called John Gray died and was buried in Greyfriars kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland. He cannot have had much family, or friends to mourn him; no gravestone to this man was ever erected. But his passing was not unmourned by all, John Gray's dog, a Skye Terrier, psychically knew where his master could be found. And for a long, un-cuddled and cold fourteen years, Grey Friar's Bobby lay on his master's grave, day and night, from winter through to summer, guarding his master with a love that sometimes put's the strength of human love to shame in comparison. He spent literally his whole life, lying on his dead owner's grave. This is the quality of love animals feel for us, never make the mistake of thinking they take anything lightly, they love deeply and feel our joys and our pains, including those inflicted upon them, with a raw power we are rarely capable of feeling. Daily, the one o'clock gun would fire and the locals would watch the little dog run off to eat his one daily meal and then return to lie on his friend's grave for the next twenty four hours, until it was lunchtime once more. This deeply loving dog only ended his devoted watch and mourning over his adored friend, when he too died in 1872. The terrier's grave can now be seen inside Greyfriars churchyard, roughly seventy five yards from the grave of his master. His grave being sanctioned to lie in a churchyard with a Christian burial, is a true testament to the homage paid him and the respect with which the church and locals regarded him, for his unswerving love and mourning. If one remembers that at this time, even suicides were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground, you see what an accolade this dog was paid, probably the only animal in Great Britain to be accorded such an honour in our entire history. There is also a monument to him in Edinburgh. It seems incredibly foolish that until recently, science did not credit animals with sentience, let alone any emotions and the reality that their feelings certainly seem to dwarf ours in their strength. They love without prejudice, resentments, without judgement or irritations; it seems they love with a purity and selflessness of which mankind is incapable.

spleeping girl and pet cat

When a pet dies, it does seem wise not to try to replace them immediately. In the same way that rebound relationships usually fail between men and women, so too it is hard to really open the heart to a new animal friend when one is still feeling sharp pangs of loss over our departed pet. The new pet can never be the same as the other pet; it cannot compete with the love one feels when grieving is uppermost in our emotions. The new pet cannot be anything like our old pet, it can only be what is actually best, a new and exciting relationship, with a character of it's own and new endearing ways that are very different from our past friend's. And until our hearts are ready to accept someone entirely different and appreciate their differences, we are not ready to find a new furry friend. From my own researches on this subject, two years seems to be the length of time it takes to fully grieve for our departed pet and to be really ready to start afresh and give openly all the love we gave to our old best friend. We will never stop loving them of course, but after a suitably long period, we can grow to love a new animal just as much as we have done and adapt to a totally new personality.

So whatever our beliefs, we can be comforted that death is not the end for those we love, animal or human, as long as we remember them, they live on in our hearts, all creation is sacred. And when it comes to animals being cherished by God, why should God love humans more than animals? We are all his children, the outer coating and means of self expression or habits may be different, emotions and needs are just about the same for us all, at least in the mammalian species. And for the parent who sometimes gets fed up with their rebellious teen children, who may ignore their parent half the time so that the parent cuddles their dog or cat in preference, it may give an insight about how God feels about animals in comparison to us. Animals are obedient, loving, innocent, caring and good hearted, almost without exception, if you were God, which would you prefer? As the Bible reassuringly points out in Matthew, chapter 10, verse 6: ' Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father (God's) knowledge.'

Our pets teach us to make the most of love, whatever species has inspired it, to grieve at loss but not to let it overwhelm us, for the love of God, for the love of all creation, our hearts can be new homes for new and as yet perhaps, unloved friends, of every species. Perhaps if our animals teach us one thing it's this: love with all your might, give love without counting the cost and enjoy every day and every good thing about those around us, they are on loan, we are all precious gifts.

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