The loss of a pet is always felt deeply

Our lives with our animal companions are defined by rituals. Here are a few that have taken place in our home: Monkey barks every morning as soon as we wake up and continues until breakfast; Blue begins silently commanding us to bed at 9 p.m. every night – staring at us as he moves toward the bedroom; Elsie meows for the bathroom faucet to be turned on so she can sip water from the running stream. Some of these rituals still happen, others ended years ago with the passing of that animal, and others ended not because the animal has passed but because age has diminished their capabilities. Add up the days: Blue has been with us for 12 years, that's 4,380 nights of being told it's time to end the day.

What we notice first as an animal ages is they begin to do less of what we have come to expect from them. They are less likely to alert us to people walking by the house. They might not be at the door when we arrive home. As aging continues, their world gets smaller - their walks become shorter and they explore less; they aren't up for a hike or a run. As we watch these changes, we are sad for our friends but glad to still have them by our side.

And one day we will have to make a decision. The decision to let them go. No one who has loved an animal will claim this is easy. No matter how many times you've had to make this decision, each animal and each situation is unique, so each demands its own considerations.

And when our friend is gone...then what? What if they were our only companion? The house feels lonely and empty. And we must find a way to cope with our grief.

Dealing with the loss of an animal companion is not easy in our culture. It is a bit embarrassing to show how sad we might truly feel. If we're lucky, we can share our feelings with a few close friends or family members. But otherwise, we are expected to continue as if nothing has changed. But something has changed.

The loss of a pet can be even more difficult for seniors. The Humane Society of the United States notes on their website, "A pet's death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind caregivers of their own mortality. What's more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the caregiver and that the decision to get another pet hinges on the person's physical and financial ability to care for a new pet."

For these reasons, it is especially important that seniors reach out, whether to friends and family or a pet loss support group for help. If a person decides not to bring another animal into their life because that animal may outlive them, then consider volunteering at a local shelter to keep that unique bond that only animals can provide in your life.

Resources to cope with the loss of a pet:

Grief Support Center at Rainbow Bridge:

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement:

Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook:

Laura Atwood is the public relations coordinator for Anchorage Animal Care and Control.

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