When our little long-haired Dachshund-Spaniel mix, Yoshi, unexpectedly crossed the Rainbow Bridge after just six short years of being in our small-but-mighty family, we were devastated. Yoshi was young and full of life, and we simply weren't prepared. (Well, frankly, no pet parent is ever prepared for the loss of a pet.) After our loved ones found out, it wasn't long before the thoughtful, heartfelt cards, messages on social media, and gifts started pouring in–including a wind chime that still hangs on our back porch today. And when it chimes on seemingly windless days, my husband and I like to think it’s Yoshi paying a visit.
But the wind chime is far from the only way we've since honored, remembered and paid tribute to our first child together.
While nothing can replace a beloved pet–and the loss of one never gets easier–there are plenty of other beautiful ways to not only remember and memorialize your pet, but also help make your pain and the grieving process a little more manageable.
1Remember Your Pet on Social Media
Your friends and family members are a great place to start during this difficult time. Tapping into your online network following your pet’s passing, whether it be on Facebook or Instagram, can give you some much-needed support.
“A lot of people will write almost an obituary type of post on Facebook. It may not be a full obituary, but it’ll be an announcement that the pet has died with collages and pictures,” says Dr. Brian Collins, DVM, a veterinarian and senior lecturer at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the former advisor for the school's pet loss support hotline.
"I think it’s easier for people to do that instead of calling people to tell them about the loss," Dr. Collins continues. "And while you’re not likely to get 100 sympathy cards in the mail, you’re likely to get 100 comments on Facebook."
2Join a Support Group
And if you’re really struggling, talking to other pet parents in the same situation may be the answer.
On the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement website, you’ll find a list of pet loss support groups around the country. If there aren’t any support groups near you, try calling a pet-loss helpline to talk through your emotions and discover coping mechanisms. Cornell’s hotline, for example, is staffed with veterinary students but overseen by veterinarians.
3Create a Memorial
Creating a loving memorial of your pet is a popular way to remember your pet. The memorial could include a keepsake box that holds some of your pet’s belongings, or it could be a pet memorial frame specially designed to both display a photo of your pet and your pet’s collar.
"You might put dog collars, leashes, or a food bowl [on or in the memorial],” says Dr. Dani McVety, DVM, CEO and co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice & In-Home Euthanasia, a veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia service that serves about three dozen states across the country.
Collins has seen this, too, and adds that you might put a favorite toy or pictures or a scrapbook on a memorial table. In other words, you could make something of a shrine for your pet.
"It could make you sad to look at, but it may be comforting, too," Collins says.
4Create a Gratitude List
McVety says that she has seen gratitude lists help a lot of people.
“You’ve probably heard of people making bucket lists for their pets, where they do special activities before a pet dies. That’s happened quite a bit,” McVety says.
“Instead, you could write up a gratitude list. You make a list of the things you did together with your pet. It can help you realize just how much you did with your pet and allows you to focus on everything you did do together instead of thinking about the things you didn’t do.”
5Create a Stuffed Animal of Your Pet
6Pay it Forward
McVety suggests donating money to an animal shelter or animal charity in your pet’s name as a remembrance that will help other animals in need.
Collins suggests asking friends or family to also donate to an animal charity instead of sending cards or flowers.
8Plant a Tree or Buy Jewelry in Your Pet's Honor
Collins says that many pet parents feel better after planting a garden and then spreading their pet’s ashes on it. Other pet owners prefer burying a pet in their yard and planting a tree next to the burial spot. You can even order a biodegradable pet urn, like the Paw Pods Biodegradable Pod Casket, that will grow into the tree of your choice, ensuring your pet’s life will live on in a beautiful and natural way.
If you’re not ready to let your pet go entirely, you can also purchase memorial jewelry, like this necklace, that holds a pet’s ashes near your heart.
This article was co-written by Geoff Williams, a freelance journalist in Loveland, OH. He and his two daughters live with one dog, three cats, two guinea pigs, one rat and a lot of fish.
This article was originally published May 2017.