National Pet Memorial Day, Pet Loss, Pet Grief, DeathSunday is National Pet Memorial Day – a time to pause and remember the pets we lost and cherished.

Tobi loved the sun. He would leap up on a porch chair, stretch his neck and legs, yawn and lay down to sleep in the hot, outdoor air.

I lived with my green-eyed, tiger cat for about 10 years. His former family was not permitted to take two cats to their new place.

Affectionately I called him Tobi Man, Cat Man, Big Boy, Good Boy, Mow, Furry Head and Prr Prr. Friends called him Tobes and Tobester. He had a black-striped and raccoon-like tail, white and rabbit-like paws and white and thumb-like toes that aided him in opening doors.

Tobi and his bags

People admired his larger size and friendliness. He mainly spent his days and nights lounging, sleeping, eating, vocalizing, squeezing into boxes and laying on paper. I could briefly pick him up and give him a hug before he squirmed out of my arms. He purred when my boyfriend or I laid next to him on the floor, brushed him and pet him.

Sickness and older-age conditions came for Tobi in about ages 15 to 18. His eyes weakened, he slowed down, he had difficulty digesting food and he lost a lot of weight. We took him to vets for check-ups, testing and treatment. They said it could be some kind of disease, but would need to do more testing.

Shortly after New Year’s Day this year, Tobi collapsed into seizures and we rushed him to an animal hospital late at night. They gave him meds to help calm him and we hugged him and said goodbye expecting to pick him up the next day after the hospital transported him to our vet. Early that next morning, the doctor called reporting more seizure activity and suggesting the options of more testing or making him comfortable and letting him go. We decided to let him go.

Tobi and his box

Tobi’s ashes are at rest with the other sweet pets buried in a park. The night we took home his memorial pawprint piece, I went out on the porch, sat in his chair, lit a candle, did a champagne toast and posted online in his honor.

Pets are a powerful part of our being. They bring us companionship, comfort, laughter and love. And it’s really hard when they die. We have cried, reminisced and missed our Tobi. As time goes on, in certain moments, I think of him, remember him, get teary-eyed or smile.

Pet Loss and Grief

Many people grieve when their pets die, whether from old age, an illness or a sudden accident. It can be a big loss.

“Pet loss used to be considered one of the kinds of loss called “disenfranchised grief,” meaning that it wasn’t one of the significant losses in our lives, such as the loss of our parents, spouses, children or siblings. There typically aren’t bereavement days from work when a beloved pet dies. You are expected to “suck it up” and go on quickly, and some are made to feel guilty for grieving so much,” explained Dwight Douglass, LCSW, a Suncoast Hospice bereavement counselor for 26 years.

There are many ways pets touch our lives.

“Sometimes they come into our lives when we feel very alone and broken and we rely on them for emotional support. Sometimes they come into our lives when we are children and we grow up with them. Perhaps they are service or emotional support dogs and help us to cope with life a little easier. Perhaps they come into our lives after we lost a family member and they fill that empty space with life again. No matter how they find us, pets are an integral part of our giving and receiving unconditional love,” he noted.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Bereavement, Grief, Loss, Death, Counseling

Suncoast Hospice Bereavement Counselor Dwight Douglass, LCSW

It’s normal to grieve their loss for many reasons.

“Their absence represents another loss of caregiving and routine as they are not greeting us at the door. We aren’t able to pet or brush them and enjoy that tactile feeling. They bring us laughter and smiles and the loss of that is significant,” he added.

Losing pets after losing people can take a heavy toll.

“When a beloved pet dies after the death of a loved one, the impact can be profound. I’ve had people say, ‘I feel like I am grieving more for my dog/cat than I have for my family member.’ It is a double loss,” said Dawn Melvin, LCSW, a recently-retired Suncoast Hospice bereavement counselor.

It’s important to show understanding and compassion after a loss.

“The most often-heard comment after someone loses a pet is, ‘When are you going to get another one?’ That is hurtful as there is no replacement for that pet. Many do in time get another or it finds them, but being sensitive with people, sharing their grief and listening to their stories is very helpful,” Douglass shared.

Support Groups

Are you coping with the loss of a pet? Anderson McQueen and the Pinellas Animal Foundation offer pet loss grief groups and other services for the community.