Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, September 7, 2001


The friendship of a companion animal is unique, which
explains why grief can be so deep when this friendship
is lost. Linda Jenks shares her life with Henry Coconuts,
her 4-year-old Golden Retriever.

Coping with
the death of a pet

By Hawaiian Humane Society

Our animal companions can be our most ste adfast friends. Their love is unconditional and their loyalty unfailing. They lend a gentle ear, make us laugh, soothe our souls. When a pet dies, it is natural to feel sorrow and grief and to mourn the loss of such an important part of our lives. However, some find it difficult to acknowledge grief over a pet because of the fear of seeming silly for crying about an animal. Be assured that sorrow and grief are normal, natural responses to the death of your pet. Give yourself time to grieve.

Saying good-bye

Just as with the death of a person, it is important to say good-bye to your animal friend to formalize the death and help you with your grief. Here are some suggestions on how to memorialize your pet's life:

>> Record memories in a journal or write a letter to your pet.

>> Make a photo album or collage containing happy times you shared.

>> Plan a memorial service at your home, in a dog park, or in a place that was special to your pet. Oahu has a pet cemetery at Valley of the Temples where you may honor your pet with a funeral and burial.

>> Create a living memorial by planting a tree or bush in your yard.

>> Make a donation to a charity in your pet's name. Consider a personalized stepping stone in the Hawaiian Humane Society garden as a memorial to your pet.

>> Do volunteer work to help other animals.

These activities help to honor the animal while you are accepting the finality of the death. Understand that there are stages of grief; your feelings will change as you work through these stages. Your family and other household pets will also feel the loss and should be allowed time to grieve. Everyone will appreciate extra understanding and TLC while they learn to cope with the death of an animal friend.

In time, the pain will lessen and memories will evoke smiles instead of tears. When you are able to focus on the happy moments you had when your pet was alive, and not on the death, you are on your way toward recovering from your grief.

How to tell your children

When a family pet dies, it may be your child's first experience with death. The way you choose to explain this event can lay the foundation for your child's conception of death. Try to keep in mind:

>> If your children do not see you sad or upset, they may fear that their own sorrow is unnatural.

>> Your child's imagination of how your pet died may be far worse than reality. Ask your veterinarian to explain euthanasia or the cause of death to your child.

>> Children take many statements at face value. If told, "Buster went to sleep forever," children may lie awake at night, fearing sleep themselves.

Children often feel guilty for things they did not do. Explain that your pet's death was not anyone's fault and that your pet is no longer in pain.

Just as each person's grieving process is individual, so is the decision to bring a new pet into your life. When children are ready for a new pet, they will let you know. Only you will know when the time is right for you.

Pets remembered

The International Association of Pet Cemeteries has designated the second Sunday in September as National Pet Memorial Day. This year, it falls on Sept. 9.

Oahu's pet cemetary is Valley Pet Memorial Gardens, 47-200 Kahekili Highway (call 239-8811). Leis placed by the memorial commemorate the day.

Pet loss information on cemetaries, support groups and more can be found at

Go to Programs and then Pet Loss Support.

Pet Ohana, which runs the first and third Fridays of the month, is written by the staff of The Hawaiian Humane Society.

Call 946-2187, Ext. 217, for more information.

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