Pet ownership offers a potential for friendship that can enrich many years of a person’s life. Sadly, sharing your days with an animal also means you’ll be sharing in the pet’s inevitable death as well. A dog’s lifespan ranges from 7 to 16 years, while an average cat lives 12 to 14 years. So unless you cuddle up with a box turtle at the end of a long day (life expectancy: 50 years), it’s pretty likely you’ll one day tell your furry friend goodbye.
My family recently lost our cat of almost 13 years, a little tabby named Lelu (aka Lelu Fantastico, aka Tinymite) to kidney failure. I’ve had some cats in my 35 years, but Lelu was my favorite feline ever — initially a stray, runt kitten my wife and I rescued from our backyard, she grew up to be a central figure in our family as we added children and pets to the household. The loss of this special little cat taught us a few things about grieving a pet, lessons I learned from my friend’s final days.
You should cry. There’s nothing silly about mourning a pet who’s passed. I’m not one to waste tears, but I’ll be the first to tell you I sobbed over Lelu. These furry friends are, in most cases, beloved family members, and their absence leaves a very real void in the owner’s daily life.
Have a little funeral. I’m not saying you should hire a minister and buy a casket and plot (though that’s fine, if you’re so inclined). We buried Lelu in a shoebox in the backyard, said our goodbyes and my wife, kids and I dropped dirt into the grave before filling the hole. It was a fine sendoff that offered a bit of closure.
Tell your kids. Loss of a family pet presents a valuable, though unfortunate, opportunity to discuss death with youngsters, so maybe reconsider telling your kids that Fido moved to a farm. We let our children see their cat’s body and pet her one last time while we explained as best we could what happened. It wasn’t easy, but I feel we made the right choice.