The Work of Healing from Pet Loss

In my 2023 book, Healing from Pet Loss, I share 30 activities we can do to help us move toward healing from the pain of the loss of a beloved pet. This is just one helpful piece from the book, but I’m sharing it with you here.

Here are 30 things you can do to build up your healing muscles while also memorializing your pet and honoring their importance in your life.

  1. Write a eulogy for your pet. What would you and others say about them at a memorial? Would there be laughter? How do you want others to remember your pet? Share this with people who loved your pet, if you feel comfortable doing so. They will appreciate it.
  2. Write your pet’s epitaph. What would you put on their permanent grave marker? Consider creating or purchasing a permanent marker for your pet – inside or outside, depending on your living situation.
  3. Go through each item belonging to or pertaining to your lost pet: beds, blankets, toys, food containers, medicines, etc. Decide if you want to save them as a keepsake, keep them for another pet, give them to charity, or discard them. Responsibly discard of all prescription medicines. When you’re ready, wash all the items and store them properly as keepsakes or for a future pet, or give them away.
  4. What are your favorite memories of your pet? Write about them or find photos and put them in an album (digital or paper copy). You can record silly times, trips you took, when they comforted you, or how you found each other, for starters.
  5. What would your pet’s life motto be? Why? Examples might be, “Leave no shoe unchewed”, or “To love me is to smell me”, “Barking is how I say, ‘I love you’”.
  6. Write about a time you were mad at or frustrated with your pet. What did you do? How did you feel after you calmed down? How did the pet react during and after the event? If your pet were here now, what would you say to them? Tell them now. They forgive you, and they know you love and miss them.
  7. What do you think your pet would say to you today? How would that make you feel? How would you respond?
  8. Write any type of poem of any length about your pet or your feelings. Some examples of poetry forms are: rhyming, couplet, limerick, sonnet, and free verse. You can find more forms and examples of each online. Don’t be your own critic. The poem doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be from you and about your pet or your feelings.
  9. Write a haiku about your pet. There are several types of haiku, but the most common is the 5-7-5 form. It consists of three lines – the first line containing five syllables, the second line comprising seven syllables, and the third line containing five syllables. Typically, haiku does not rhyme, should contain a minimum of punctuation, and frequently the topic is nature or a moment in time. For ideas, there are several examples in this book, as well as online.
  10. Write the story of your pet’s life. If you know their parental history, start with that. If the pet came to you as an adult, start with the birth of your relationship. What brought you together? Was it a happy accident or planned? Who needed whom the most? Write about the fun times and the pain-in-the-butt times. Think about their favorite places, trips, and foods. Write all the way to the end. This will probably take longer than one sitting, and that’s okay. You’ll probably think of more things to add.
  11. Write the story of your pet’s death. Write about the illness, the decline, or the accident. What was their reaction, your reaction, and others’ reactions? Was it a “good” death (comfortable, pain-free, secure)? Or was it a hard death (traumatic, sudden, painful for the animal)? Who helped make it better? Who do you feel made it worse? What did you choose to do with your pet’s remains? How do you feel about that choice now? How would you handle the passing differently if you had to do it over again? What would you do exactly the same?
  12. Do you have any feelings of personal responsibility or guilt around your pet’s death? Write about the specifics and how you feel about it. Was there something that could have been avoided, or was the progression of events inevitable? Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself from your pet now that they are in a comfortable, pain-free existence. If talking feels easier to you than writing, tell a supportive, trusted person about your feelings. If possible and appropriate, repair the circumstances that led to the loss. For example, fix a broken fence or invest in pet insurance for your remaining pets.
  13. Write a song for or about your pet. If you can set it to music (original or not) all the better. If creating a song isn’t your cup of tea, think about what your pet’s theme song might be.
  14. Write a fictional or true story starring your pet. It can be as long or as short as you’d like. This can be funny, sad, inspiring, or whatever feelings you’d like to convey.
  15. Think about the silliest thing you ever bought for your pet and the best thing you ever bought for them. Would you buy those things again?
  16. Who was your pet’s favorite person, after you? Have you reminisced with them or shared something belonging to the pet with them, even a photograph?
  17. Make a collage, draw, or paint a picture of your pet and his/her life.
  18. Create a memory box or scrapbook page of your pet’s life (as many pages as you need).
  19. Write a thank-you letter or note to all friends and family who cared for and helped with your pet during their good times and bad times.
  20. Write a thank-you letter to your pet for being part of your life and bringing you joy.
  21. Write a thank-you letter to your pet’s healthcare providers. If that seems disingenuous, write a letter of grievance, then put it away or give it to a trustworthy friend to hold on to for you until you are ready to let go of the grievance. When you are ready, you may want to destroy the letter, or you may want to save with your keepsakes as a reminder of your strength in healing.
  22. Write a letter to other pet owners telling them what you’ve learned and what might help them during pet ownership and loss. You can share this on social media or find an online pet site, pet magazine, or personal essay publication where you could submit the piece for possible publication.
  23. Write a letter to a non-animal person, explaining your feelings and forgiving (if necessary) their lack of understanding and/or empathy. This is for you, not to be sent out, although this could possibly be an open letter, addressed to Anonymous, that might be published somewhere.
  24. Write a letter of comfort to yourself. Tell yourself how proud you are of how you’ve handled this loss and how brave you are to have loved one that you knew would likely leave you first. Remind yourself that you’ve done an honorable thing loving this animal, risking your heart, and providing them with a good life, and good death, if applicable.
  25. Make a list of ways in which you could honor your pet through service, such as free pet sitting, volunteering at a shelter, fostering animals, walking the pets of the ill, disabled, or aged, taking the disabled and their pets to appointments, picking up pet meds for the homebound, shopping for pet supplies for others, taking pets to the groomer/vet, or taking pets to dog parks. Consider donating or becoming involved with animal charities specific to your species/breed or other animal welfare charities, especially organizations in your local area.
  26. Consider the five stages of grief and how you’ve experienced them so far. How do you expect to experience your grief in the future? What do you dread? How might you mitigate future pain? What are you looking forward to?
  27. If you were to get a new pet, what are some names you’d consider giving it? Keep a running list, even if you are not currently seeking a new pet. Of course, you may want the name to fit the personality, so the final naming will have to wait, but doing this can help open your heart to new love.
  28. What are some different breeds or species you would consider bringing into your home in the future? Sometimes, switching from dog to cat or vice versa will help decrease the risk of unrealistic expectations of the new pet, as well as teaching us new ways to relate to and care for an animal. When an idea pops up for you, investigate it. Learn what you can about that type of animal – just for future reference. You can search on the internet, join online groups, and talk to others who are more knowledgeable about that type of pet. Online forums have tons of people who don’t actually own that type of pet but love them and are animal advocates. You can learn a lot from them.
  29. What do you miss the most about your pet? What don’t you miss (no guilt feelings allowed!)? It can be as simple as “no longer vacuuming hairs out of the couch” to “not having to spend so much money on medications.”  Acknowledging that some burdens have lightened does not mean we wouldn’t take our pets back in a second if we could. This is just a way of allowing your mind to lean in a more positive direction and hopefully provide emotional balance and a realistic view of what taking on a new pet will likely entail.
  30. What can you do now – because you have more time, money, and/or freedom – that you couldn’t do or were holding off on doing while your pet was living with you? Think about experiencing some of those things now. Examples include taking a long trip that isn’t pet-friendly or inviting non-animal people over for a visit. Now’s the time to think about large-scale home improvements that would have been difficult with a full-time pet, such as rebuilding your entire fence, remodeling the kitchen, re-carpeting the house, or installing new external doors or windows.

I hope these have provided you with some helpful ideas. If you have other practices and rituals that have been healing for you, I’d love to hear about them!