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Saying goodbye to a good friend is never easy

A dog takes a quick break Monday while on a walk at Bay Point Park. The love and companionship offered by an animal is a cherished part of many owners’ lives, making the death of a pet an emotional experience. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Owning a pet means friendship, responsibility and forming a loving bond that can last a lifetime.

The sad truth is that many owners outlive their companion animals, forcing them to begin a difficult grieving process not everyone acknowledges or understands.

“Whether an animal dies, is lost or stolen or must be placed in a new home, sorrow is a normal and natural reaction to the loss of a beloved friend,” according to the Twin Cities-based Animal Humane Society. “But our culture doesn’t provide us with the rituals to help us mourn the loss of a companion animal as it does the loss of a human.”

Like any grieving process, mourning for a pet is a deeply personal experience that will be felt differently depending on the individual, said Dr. Jennifer Scott, a veterinarian at All Creatures Veterinary Clinic in Red Wing.

“There’s no right way to do it,” said Scott, who tells clients that it’s OK to feel sad after a pet is put down. She said one of the best things for grieving pet owners is to draw on family members and support networks for help.

Parents and children

The issue can be especially difficult with children, for whom the death of a pet may be their first experience with mortality.

Scott’s advice for parents broaching the subject depends on the age of the child, but typically includes holding a memorial, be it planting a tree or drawing a picture — anything to acknowledge the child’s feelings.

Parents should not hide their sadness or say that a dead pet has simply run off, as it can cause children to feel betrayed when they learn the truth, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Expressing grief in front of children can help assure them that their sadness is an acceptable reaction.

In place of a backyard burial, Mahn Family Funeral Homes offers private cremation services for pets. Animals are cremated alone and returned to owners in an urn for memorializing.

Another reaction by grieving pet owners may be to immediately replace it with a new animal. Scott said that can work for some people, but suggests giving it time before making a new commitment.

“I usually tell people to listen to their inner voice on that one,” she said, “because sometimes if you get a pet too soon you end up resenting it if it has different needs, or you’ll compare that pet to the old one.”

A big day

Scott has 10 years of experience in the veterinary field, including providing euthanasia services. She also has experience with it in her personal life, having done the procedure on her own pets.

“It was one of the things I almost didn’t go to vet school over because I didn’t think I could do it,” Scott said on the prospect of ending the life of an animal.

It’s never an easy decision to make, she said, but it can help to look at it from the perspective that putting down a pet is often the humane thing to do.

“It’s kind of a gift we have that we can help end their suffering,” Scott said, adding that she’s gotten more thank you notes from owners of pets she’s put down than those she’s healed.

“Which is odd, but it shows how big a deal it is for them when they come in for that appointment,” she said. “You don’t remember all the vaccine visits, but you remember that last day.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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