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The Ralph Site - pet loss support

Welcome to The Ralph Site Blog

Hello, and welcome to The Ralph Site Blog.

We celebrate the unique place that pets have in our lives through regular features and practical advice on pet bereavement and other animal-related matters.

Pet loss support

The Ralph Site is a non-profit online pet loss support resource which provides support to pet carers coping with the loss of a beloved companion. There are a website and an active Facebook community with a public page and a private group.

Pet carers’ community

The Ralph Site aims to provide a non-judgmental and supportive place for those pet carers who have lost a much-loved member of the family. We know all too well the pain and heartbreak that accompanies the passing of your pet. And whilst these pets can never be replaced, we may find room to enrich our lives further with others when the time is right.

At The Ralph Site, we understand the special bond between you and your pets.

Thank you for your support.

 

What are the Seven Principles of Grief?

Pet loss grief can be confusing, overwhelming, and its depth sometimes unexpected. You may be wondering if or when your feelings of grief will come to an end or even how to start processing them.

In today’s blog, we want to share a summary of the Seven Principles of Grief as defined by John Shep Jeffreys, a psychologist who specialises in grief, loss and end-of-life concerns. 

It is a comforting overview of how we humans experience grief and a reminder that it’s a natural reaction to losing someone you love.

Principle One: There is no one right way to grieve 

We all grieve differently. In fact, even the same person may experience grief differently from one loss to another. Some people openly express their emotions, they cry and want to talk about their loss, while others want to stay busy and do anything but talk about their feelings.

So many factors affect how we’re able to express and process grief. As well as your relationship with the non-human animal who has died, you may be affected by your previous losses, stage in life, gender, lifestyle, living arrangements, other relationships, routines and more.

You may have experienced messages during childhood about whether or not it was okay to feel fear or sadness or cry in the face of loss. You may be heavily influenced by your religion, culture, social expectations, or even your friends and family and how they approach grief.

As we always say on The Ralph Site, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, only your way.

Principle Two: You cannot fix or cure grief

Grief is messy; it’s painful and it’s life-changing, so it’s understandable if you wish you could find a way to fix or cure yourself of hurting from your loss.

Sadly though, grief isn’t a medical complaint that can be cured. The only reliable way to move forward after loss is to feel it, grieve and mourn.

It may not feel like it but, as John Shep Jeffreys points out in the Seven Principles, the human grief reaction is actually designed to enable us to survive. Grief comes about as a result of deep attachment and it’s the ability to form deep attachments that is central to human survival as a social species.

Principle Three: There is no universal timetable for the grief journey

One of the most common questions people have after a bereavement is “How long will it take before I feel ‘better’?” The answer is “As long as it takes”.

Unfortunately, grief doesn’t have a timeline (it would be so reassuring to tick off the days on a calendar and know there was an end date, wouldn’t it?!). 

We mention this on The Ralph Site a lot because it’s so important.

We live in a society that struggles with the expression of grief, especially pet loss grief. Bereaved pet carers often feel rushed to “get over” their pet or “move on”. Comments such as “it was just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit, etc.” can reinforce the message that pet loss is something that should be put in the past quickly. Even the use of the word “it” to describe your companion robs them of their identity.

But you know better.

Pet loss can be just as hard as losing a human loved one. It’s not your responsibility to fit your healing journey to someone else’s timetable and to minimise your pain to fit in with someone else’s view of the world. 

In reality, you will probably experience some form of grief over your lost pet for the rest of your life, although the nature of your grief will change with time. You will also continue to love them and carry memories of them with you.

Principle Four: Every loss is a multiple loss

Grief is like a stone being thrown into a lake – its ripples spread out much further than you might ever imagine.

In the fourth principle of grief, Jeffreys reminds us that every loss is a multiple loss.

When your pet died, you lost more than their body and being. You lost the future together, the way you talked to them, your daily routines, what you did together and even just the way you were with them.

These secondary losses were all a vital part of life with your pet so it’s natural that you will grieve for them too.

Principle Five: Change = Loss = Grief

Change is an unavoidable part of our existence. Even if we have a quiet, uneventful life staying in the same job and living in the same house with the same people, something will change eventually, even just due to the passing of time.

Whenever we experience a change in life, it’s usually accompanied by a sense of loss as we transition from one thing to the next. This could be changing schools, taking on a new job, moving house, going travelling and many other scenarios. Even when there’s great excitement and optimism about the future, we usually have some sort of grief reaction as we say goodbye to something that was important to us.

When change and loss are brought about by the death or serious illness of someone we love, including a pet, there’s always a much stronger grief reaction. You didn’t choose this change and the losses that come with it. It takes time to process this.

Principle Six: We grieve old loss while grieving new loss

If you’ve ever come across the “Ball in the Box” analogy, you’ll know that grief never fully goes away. Every loss you’ve experienced in your life is like a ball in the box bouncing around, hitting the balls of other losses and occasionally pressing the pain button that sits on one of the walls.

When you experience a new loss, it adds a new ball to the box, one that starts off huge and presses the pain button continuously as well as jostling all the other balls in the box.

As this analogy explains, we carry our past grief with us. It’s understandable that your pet loss may have brought past losses to the forefront of your mind. 

It’s important to give your feelings about each loss space and attention, even if you’re suddenly thinking about a bereavement that happened years ago.

Principle Seven: We grieve when a loss has occurred or is threatened

Again, Jeffreys reminds us that, as a social species, humans and some other animals have evolved to develop deep bonds. It’s these bonds, first with our parents and wider family and later with friends, non-human animals, etc., that keep us safe and enrich our lives.

It is natural, Jeffreys says, to experience a grief reaction even if a loss is threatened rather than realised.

This is why pet carers often struggle with anticipatory grief when a companion non-human animal is old or terminally ill, even though they’re still alive and happy.

If you’re experiencing grief before your pet has died, please be reassured that it’s a natural response to knowing a loss might occur in the future. It’s important to be kind to yourself about feeling this.

Finding support for your pet loss grief

The Seven Principles of Grief are a gentle reminder that it is part of the human experience to grieve for a companion we love. While there are universal truths about grief that unite us, grief is also deeply personal and unique to you.

If you are struggling with pet loss grief right now, here are some tips that may help:

  • Rest, eat good food and do some exercise whenever you feel able – it’s important to look after yourself
  • Pay attention to how you’re feeling and acknowledge it – if possible, tell someone else, just to share what’s on your mind
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to “fix” things
  • Find mourning rituals that give you comfort, e.g. planting a tree for your pet, volunteering, donating to a charity in their name, lighting a candle in their memory
  • Take time off from grieving whenever you feel able – listen to a favourite song, cook a meal, meet up with a friend
  • Write down how you’re feeling
  • Reach out to a pet bereavement service or counsellor or talk to other bereaved pet carers in The Ralph Site’s private Facebook group

You’re not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Bereavement, grief and mourning: What’s the difference?

Sadly, loss is a universally-experienced life event. Pet loss, however, is something only experienced by those of us who choose to live with or care for an animal.

Bereavement, grief and mourning are all common terms that we use to describe the feelings and behaviours associated with loss, whatever its nature.

People often talk about each as if they’re interchangeable. However, there are some key differences – especially between grief and mourning – that are particularly relevant to bereaved pet carers.

Let’s look at what these terms mean and why the differences matter.

What is bereavement?

Bereavement refers to the experience of having lost someone or something you love. In this case, the bereavement you have experienced is the loss of a pet.

What is grief?

Grief is perhaps best defined as our internal (psychobiological) reaction to a bereavement/loss. It includes a range of psychological and physiological symptoms that vary over time and from one person to another.

Two people can be grieving the same loss and experience it in very different ways.

As we never stop feeling sad about losing someone we love, and we never stop missing them, grief is permanent.

However, it does change with time.

Grief usually includes an acute phase, which begins shortly after a loss is experienced. In the case of pet loss, this can include symptoms such as:

  • Profound sadness
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Numbness/Disbelief/Denial
  • Guilt
  • Longing to be with the pet who has died or gone missing
  • Constant thoughts and memories of your pet, including how they died
  • Physical symptoms such as digestive problems, trouble sleeping, low energy, lack of appetite, or various aches and pains
  • Disinterest in the outer world and usual activities (thoughts turn inwards instead)

All of these emotions and physical symptoms are a natural reaction to losing someone we love.

During the acute phase, it can be difficult to think about anything but your loss and grief. You may wonder how you will ever feel happy again or able to move forward in life.

Given time though, we learn to integrate grief into our lives, growing around it.

What is complicated grief?

Given how devastating grief is and how strongly we experience it, most humans and grieving animals eventually find a way to live a satisfying and meaningful life after loss. They never forget but they do find a measure of acceptance.

Approximately seven percent of bereaved people though experience what is known as complicated grief (or “persistent complex bereavement disorder”).

This is when the feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve over time. For someone with complicated grief, the pain of loss can be so severe that the person has trouble resuming their own life and finding any fulfilment in it, sometimes for years after the loss.

Although it’s important to know that grief doesn’t have a time frame, bereavement experts recommend talking to a doctor or counsellor if you’re still experiencing the acute stage of grief or struggling to express your feelings six to 12 months after your loved one has died.

It may be that you need more intensive support.

Grief is not depression (but they can be linked)

It’s important to say here that people often talk about grief and depression as if they’re the same or as if depression is an inevitable part of grieving.

But research shows this isn’t the case.

Yes, grief and depression can both cause profound sadness and disrupt our lives but they are fundamentally different.

Depression is a medical illness, a mood disorder that inhibits the ability to experience positive emotions. It can bias our thinking towards negatives and turn our thoughts inwards, robbing us of the sense of who we are as a person.

Grief is a natural response to losing someone you love.

But even in the depths of despair, grief allows us to experience positive emotions and memories too. We may struggle to connect with the outside world but we still want to. We also retain our sense of self. Yes, some of our dreams for the future may have died with our loved one but we still have the ability to dream.

The reason we shouldn’t confuse grief and depression is that depression typically needs treatment whereas grief needs time, reassurance and support.

Also, it helps to be aware that people who have experienced depression are more likely to experience complicated grief. Equally, complicated grief can be a sign that someone needs support for depression.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, please speak to your GP for advice.

What is mourning?

While grief is about the internal experience of bereavement, mourning is about how we express it externally.

It’s a catchall term to describe the practical rituals and psychological processes we use to process our bereavement and eventually reconnect with the world.

Funerals, memorials, crying, talking about our pet loss, journaling, looking at photos, etc., all fall under the umbrella of mourning.

Bereavement experts advise that the only way to integrate a loss into our lives is to mourn as well as grieve.

In her research into grief, M Katherine Shear says, “After mourning successfully, a bereaved person is re-engaged in daily life, reconnected to others, and able to experience hope for a future with potential for joy and satisfaction”.

However, Shear warns that mourning can be highly “aversive”.

When we mourn, we have to think about mortality, both our own and that of our loved ones. Our brains can register this as a threat and push the thoughts away, making it harder for us to process grief.

Many people in Western culture are uncomfortable with outward expressions of grief. We live in a society that prizes youth and struggles to talk about death. This can make us feel ashamed or just uncertain about how to express our innermost feelings of loss.

Another issue for pet carers is that not everyone recognises pet loss as a bereavement. This can lead to feelings of isolation. Without the rituals that usually take place after a bereavement or support from a wider network, pet carers can feel like they’re not allowed to mourn.

This can lead to what is known as incomplete grief.

Mourning your precious pet

Research shows that losing a pet can be as painful as losing a human family member. This is due to many factors including attachment bonds, a loss of routine when a pet dies, secondary losses (such as no longer seeing friends you walked your dog with), lack of validation and support, loss of companionship, loss of unconditional love, and more.

One of the main reasons The Ralph Site exists is to give pet carers like you a safe space to mourn.

Being able to express your grief is a vital part of learning how to live without your pet.

Hopefully, the more we talk about the impact of pet loss, the more society will create other opportunities for mourning.

Have you been able to mourn yet?

If you’re living with pet loss grief, it can be helpful to ask the following questions once in a while:

  • Have I been mourning this death or have I restricted myself to grieving?
  • Am I struggling to express my grief? If so, why?
  • If I have permitted myself to mourn, what are the ways I have done this?
  • Who or what has been most helpful in my mourning?

We all have preferences when it comes to how we express ourselves, including how we mourn.

Some people mourn a pet by chatting to friends or building a memorial garden, others by writing a letter or creating a photobook. Only you can decide what is right for you.

All that matters is that you do mourn as well as grieve.

As always, know that you are not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Seven famous pet memorials that celebrate humans’ amazing bonds with their pets

People sometimes talk about seeing our pets as family members as if it’s a new trend (here’s one example of an article from The Guardian). But some of the world’s most famous pet memorials are a reminder that many humans and animals have shared an incredible bond throughout time.

Here are just a few of the wonderful and famous pet memorials that tell a story about the enduring love between humans and their animal kin.

1. Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby is legendary, so much so that his story has been the subject of many books and several films, including a Disney production in 1961.

The best-known version of the story is that Bobby, a Skye terrier, lived with John Gray, a night watchman for the Edinburgh police. When John Gray died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, his canine companion is said to have loyally waited near his grave for the next 14 years.

When Bobby died in 1872, he was buried just inside Greyfriars cemetery near John Gray. A year later, a statue was commissioned and erected opposite the entrance to the graveyard, where it remains today. Bobby’s collar and bowl are still on display in the Museum of Edinburgh.

While books have been written that dispute the story of Greyfriars Bobby’s (arguing that he was simply a stray dog who lived in the kirkyard), this little dog remains an abiding symbol of love and loyalty.

2. Hachiko  

Hachiko was a Japanese Akita, born in November 1923. He soon became the loyal companion of Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University.

Every evening after work, Ueno would catch a train to Shibuya Station where Hachiko would be patiently waiting to greet him before the pair walked home together.

Tragically, Ueno died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage while at work in May 1925.

For the remainder of his life – nine years, nine months and fifteen days – Hachiko lived as a street dog. He returned to Shibuya Station every evening at precisely the time Ueno’s usual train was due to arrive in the hope of being reunited with his human friend. 

The people of Japan came to view Hachiko as a symbol of family loyalty. When Hachiko eventually died, he was cremated and his ashes were laid to rest beside those of his beloved Ueno.

Today, there are various statues of Hachiko in Japan. The one outside Shibuya Station is a popular meeting spot.

Every year, on 8th March, hundreds of dog lovers flock there to honour Hachiko’s devotion with a remembrance ceremony.

3. Emily the Cow

On 14th November 1995, Emily, a three-year-old heifer, escaped from a slaughterhouse in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, by jumping a 5ft gate just moments before she would have been killed. 

For the next 40 days, in record amounts of snow, Emily evaded capture, aided and abetted by some of the local townspeople. Several times, she was spotted running with a herd of deer. 

When Emily was eventually captured, a local family bought her from the slaughterhouse for just $1 and took her to live out the rest of her days at a sanctuary at The Peace Abbey

Over the next eight years, people travelled from far and wide to visit Emily, who was loved for her calm and gentle nature. She became a living symbol for animal rights and veganism.

Sadly, Emily died of uterine cancer at 11 years old. She was buried at The Peace Abbey between statues of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. Later, a life-size bronze statue of Emily was placed over her grave and people still visit it today.

4. Fala

Fala, a Scottish terrier, was American President Franklin D Roosevelt’s last and favourite dog. Although the little dog officially lived at the White House, he accompanied Roosevelt to many official events. He was even made an honorary private in the US army!

In 1944, Roosevelt’s Republican opponents in Congress accused the President of accidentally leaving Fala on the Aleutian Islands while on tour there and sending a US Navy Destroyer to retrieve his beloved pooch at massive cost to US taxpayers.

The story was made up but Roosevelt referenced it in a speech at the start of his 1944 Presidential campaign, saying that Fala had not been the same dog since hearing the lies about his human and that he (Roosevelt), while used to hearing “falsehoods” about himself, had the “right to resent, to object, to libellous statements about (his) dog”.

At the moment when President Roosevelt died in 1945, it’s said that Fala leapt to his feet, broke his way through a screen door and ran into the garden, barking in a frenzy. When he reached high ground, he stood frozen, staring at something unseen.

Roosevelt’s widow, Eleanor, cared for Fala for the rest of his days but said he never fully recovered from losing the President. When he died two days before his 12th birthday, Fala was buried just 10 feet away from President Roosevelt.

A statue of Fala sits next to a statue of Roosevelt in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington.

5. Trim

Trim was a tenacious little cat born in 1799 on board the ship HMS Reliance during a voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay.  

When he was just weeks old, Trim fell overboard into the ocean but managed to claw hold of a rope and scale his way back to the ship’s deck. This show of grit made him a firm favourite among the crew, particularly renowned explorer Captain Matthew Flinders.

Trim later went on to sail around the continent with Flinders on the HMS Investigator, and the intrepid duo survived the shipwreck of HMS Porpoise in 1803. 

Shortly afterwards, Flinders was accused of spying and imprisoned by the French on Mauritius on his return journey to England. Trim remained Flinders’ loyal companion during this time in prison, until one day he went missing, believed to have been killed.

Flinders never forgot his feline friend and he wrote about him for many years after his disappearance, including an epitaph that reads:

TO THE MEMORY OF TRIM
The best and most illustrious of his race
The most affectionate of friends,
faithful of servants,
and best of creatures
He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia,
which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers

Several statues of Captain Flinders depict Trim between his feet or resting against his side, honouring the deep love the pair shared.

6. Hodge

The 18th century English writer and lexicographer, Dr Samuel Johnson, is said to have been devoted to his pets, in particular, his favourite cat, Hodge. 

Accounts from the time talk about Johnson personally buying food for Hodge because he was worried that his servants would find shopping for a cat degrading and that they might take it out on Hodge.

Johnson wrote about Hodge often, as did other famous writers such as Samuel Beckett, and a neighbour observed that the cat would always give a grateful purr when Johnson stopped to stroke him.

When Hodge was dying, Johnson bought herbal remedies to ease his friend’s suffering.

Today, Hodge is remembered in the form of a bronze statue in Gough Square, London, outside the home he shared with Johnson. The inscription beneath the statue reads, “A very fine cat indeed”, which is how Johnson once described his favourite furry friend.

7. Street Cat Bob

In 2007, James Bowen was enrolled in a methadone programme, begging and busking in Covent Garden and living in supported housing. One evening, he found a little ginger cat in the hallway of this building. Over the coming days, he realised that no one was caring for the cat who desperately needed treatment for an infected wound on his leg.

It was the start of a life-changing friendship. 

Once the cat was healthy, Bowen released him onto the street, hoping he’d find his way back to his original home. The cat, however, had different ideas. He liked this human and wasn’t going anywhere.

James called the cat Bob. Every day, Bob would follow James to the bus, determined to accompany him into the city. Soon, people started to notice the pair, especially as Bob would sit perched on Bowen’s shoulder as he busked or sold The Big Issue. Tourists would take videos of James and Bob and upload them to YouTube, growing their celebrity status.

During this time, Bowen was able to come off methadone. He says caring for Bob gave him a reason to get up every day.

Over the next decade, James co-wrote a number of books about his adventures with Bob. The first book, A Street Cat Called Bob, was adapted for the big screen and released in 2016.

Sadly, Bob – who spent his later life living as an indoor cat – escaped from the house in June 2020 and died after being hit by a car. 

In a statement about Bob’s passing, Bowen said: “Bob saved my life. It’s as simple as that. He gave me so much more than companionship. With him at my side, I found a direction and purpose that I’d been missing. The success we achieved together through our books and films was miraculous. He’s met thousands of people, touched millions of lives. There’s never been a cat like him. And never will again. 

“I feel like the light has gone out in my life. I will never forget him.”

James unveiled a bronze statue of Bob in Islington Green, London, in June 2021. He is now a successful author who dedicates his time to helping charities that involve homelessness, literacy and animal welfare.

Other famous pet memorials 

History shows that there have always been those of us who cherish the bond with our pets and that they are far more than “just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit/bird” etc. 

These are just a handful of the famous pet memorials that can be found around the world. Of course, there are thousands of other memorials that celebrate pets who may not have been famous but who will live on in the hearts of the humans who loved them forever.

Before you go, why not create a virtual memorial to your precious pet on The Ralph Site?

As always, know that you are not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Denial and pet loss grief

Are you struggling to come to terms with the fact that your beloved pet has died or may not return because they have gone missing?

Many people experience phases of denial after a bereavement and pet loss grief is no different.

Why do we experience denial?

Denial is perhaps best described as a defence mechanism that helps to detach the mind from the pain of bereavement.

It’s not so much that it keeps your mind busy or distracts you from your loss. Denial actively seeks to tell you that you’ve misunderstood reality and your pain is misplaced because your pet is still here and well – there’s just been a terrible mistake.

It’s common to experience denial in the early minutes, hours and days after a bereavement. It’s when the feelings of grief are so raw and painful and too huge to process that the brain goes into a self-protective mode to protect against mental anguish.

Of course, denial can resurface at later times too.

What denial looks and feels like

Denial can look and feel quite different from one person to the next.

You may find yourself avoiding the reality of your pet’s death – for example, being unable to make decisions about what to do with their belongings or even their remains.

You may feel forgetful, indecisive, easily distracted or suddenly overly focused on mindless activities like scrolling through social media or watching comforting TV programmes. You might find the need to be busy all the time or tell people that you’re fine when they ask how you’re feeling.

Internally, you may feel shocked, numb, confused or even like all of your emotions have shut down.

Again, this is because denial is trying to protect you.

When a pet is terminally ill or elderly

If you’ve been caring for a terminally ill or very elderly pet, you may be able to recognise times when you’ve experienced denial already. 

Perhaps your vet said your pet only had a few months to live but you looked and them and thought, “But they look fine” or “The vet must be wrong because he’s so much better this week”.

This is a natural response to facing something as big as the inevitable death of someone you love.

Denial tricks us with fictitious scenarios

One of the distressing aspects of denial is that, in seeking to protect us from pain, it can actually cause it. One way it does this is by tricking us into believing our pet is still alive but out of reach.

Bereaved pet carers often say that they’ve heard their pet moving around the house or seen them out of the corner of their eye, even though they know, intellectually at least, that their pet is dead.

For some people, this is a comforting experience but others can find it distressing. There’s no right or wrong way to respond.

People who weren’t able to be with their pets when they died might become convinced that they’re actually alive and well but living elsewhere. In this scenario, it’s common to go out looking for the pet or imagine seeing them with someone else – for example, seeing someone walking a dog that looks just like yours or noticing the double of your cat sitting in someone else’s window.

Even after being with a pet when they died, pet carers can worry about them being left alone and feeling cold while in storage at the vet’s office or after being buried.  

In these situations, denial isn’t as protective and reassuring as it seeks to be.

Getting stuck in denial

It’s not unusual to get stuck in a state of denial after a bereavement. This is most likely to happen if you’re unable to go through the grieving process and express your feelings, whatever they may be.

Because pet bereavement is a type of disenfranchised grief, bereaved pet carers often struggle to find support and outlets to talk about their loss (which is one of the reasons we created The Ralph Site). It might not be possible to take time off work to grieve or observe mourning rituals such as a funeral, which can help to challenge our denial when someone dies.

You may find that people don’t mention your pet, perhaps because they don’t understand your loss or because they don’t want to upset you. This can make it easier to lock your grief away.

The problem is that denial can only work for so long.

At some point, your grief will need and, indeed, demand to be felt.

If you do feel like you’re stuck in denial, it’s important to reach out and explore ways to acknowledge your grief.

Denial can resurface 

People often talk about grief in terms of five stages, as though you experience one and then tick it off a list – complete the five stages and you win at overcoming grief.

(See our article about why it’s fine to ignore the five stages of grief).

In reality, bereavement is much messier and far less linear. Most of us experience a mix of the five stages – and more – many times over even as we find a way to move forward into the next chapter of life.

It’s common for denial to resurface. 

For example, you may find this happens if you start thinking about giving a home to a new pet.

Many pet carers say that they feel disloyal and don’t want their deceased pet to think that they’re being replaced. In this scenario, denial is telling them that their pet is still very much alive and capable of being put out by a usurper for their human’s affections.

It’s often the question of rehoming another animal that makes people come to the realisation that their pet has truly gone. It’s hardly surprising that it can be such an emotionally-charged decision, one that’s often far from easy.

Accepting the unacceptable

As we’ve seen, denial is a protective mechanism but it can actually keep us frozen in grief.

Eventually, healthy grieving is about moving into a state of acceptance about a loss, even when it feels utterly unacceptable. 

It’s not about condoning the loss, forgetting it or leaving it behind. Instead, it’s about adapting, being vulnerable to a whole host of emotions, learning to be present in the moment, and engaging with reality as it is. 

If you’re struggling with denial and pet loss grief, please know that you’re not alone. The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group offers a safe and supportive community for like-minded pet carers to talk about their feelings.


Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

10 child-friendly ways to remember your pet on special days

After your pet has died, you may find there are special days during the year when you especially want to remember them or they’re in your thoughts a lot.

You might want to celebrate your pet’s birthday or do something special to mark the anniversary of the day they came to live with you or the day they died. Perhaps you want to include them in your Christmas celebrations or a day that has special meaning for your family.

Here we have put together 10 child-friendly ways to remember your pet on special days. Really though, these activities can be done on any day of the year – just pick the one that has the most meaning for you.

  1. Set up a special area to remember your pet

One lovely way to remember your pet is to set up a special area in your house or garden as a tribute to them.

It’s up to you what you put in this area. You could include a photo of your pet, some of their belongings, a letter you’ve written to them, or anything that reminds you of them. 

You could sit in this special area for a while and let yourself remember happy times with your pet or even invite your whole family to sit together and share memories.

  1. Light a candle

In lots of cultures around the world, people light a candle to remember a loved one who has died. It’s a way of saying that the memory of them lives on and still burns bright.

Why not light a candle for your pet and think about your happy times with them while the flame burns?

Just make sure you ask a grown-up to help you with this and the flame is not left unattended.

  1. Make or write a card

If you enjoy creative activities, you could make a card for your pet or choose your favourite shop-bought design to write in.

Tell your pet how much you miss them on this special day and add it to their memory box

Alternatively, you could pop the card on a shelf for everyone to see or take it to where your pet is buried or where you sprinkled their ashes. 

It’s completely up to you what you do with the card, so just go with whatever feels right.

  1. Ask your friends and family to write down their favourite memories of your pet

Your family and friends may have their own special memories of times they shared with your pet. 

How about asking them to write their favourite memory on a piece of paper for you? You could then fold up the memories and keep them safe in a pot or jar.

We love the idea of creating these origami hearts and writing a special memory inside each one.

Here are some fab examples of memory jars on Pinterest.

  1. Make a memory box

A memory box can be a beautiful way to keep all the special things that remind you of your pet in one place.

If you haven’t already made one, you could spend the special day devoted to remembering your pet doing this activity.

We wrote a separate article about things you might want to include in your pet’s memory box.

  1. Create a digital memory board, box or book for your pet

Do you like using the computer to be creative? You probably have loads of pictures of your pet on your phone, in the cloud or on the hard drive of your computer. 

One activity idea is to find your favourite pictures and turn them into a digital collage, board, memory box or photobook.

There are many different tools you can use to do this. Canva, for example, has some photobook templates or you can use a blank Canva template to make a collage.

You could also use a free service like Kindeo to turn your photos and videos – including those sent to you by other people – into a special message for your pet.

  1. Listen to music, watch a film or play a game

Doing something you enjoy like listening to music, watching a favourite film or playing a video game can help you to remember your pet in a positive, fun way.

Is there a particular song that reminds you of them? Is there a film that makes you feel happy (or even makes you cry)? Or maybe a video game that helps you think about your pet or takes your mind off your loss?

If you’re finding a special day without your pet tough, doing something you love might make it easier for you.

  1. Do something special with people who loved your pet too

If you have other family members or friends who are grieving for your pet too then how about arranging to do something together for the special day on which you want to remember your pet?

You could go out for a walk together, head to the park, enjoy a meal/picnic, do a new activity, visit a special place, or try something else entirely. 

The only rule is that you all agree it’s a day to honour the memory of your pet.

  1. Plant a tree

One of our favourite ways of remembering a much-loved pet is to plant a tree, bush or some flowers for them.

It’s wonderful to see something live and thrive and to have a special place to visit that reminds you of your pet. Plus, plant life is great for the environment.

  1. Help a local animal shelter

There are so many animals that end up living in shelters and rescue centres. Depending on your age, you may be able to volunteer as a helper – perhaps walking dogs or cleaning out rabbits or guinea pigs. Sometimes, you need a grown-up with you to do this.

Even if you’re too young to do something hands-on at a shelter, how about trying to raise some money by making and selling cakes, doing a garage sale or even writing to local businesses to ask for their support?

You could donate any money you raise in the name of your own pet as a way of using their memory to do something good for animals in need.

Be kind to yourself

Grief is different for everyone. 

Some people find special days like a pet’s birthday, the anniversary of the day they died or the first Christmas without them really tough to get through. Other people are surprised to find that special days are okay.

There’s no right or wrong. Sometimes an anniversary day is fine and other times, it can be upsetting. Your feelings may change from year to year, depending on what is going on in your life at the time.

The most important thing is that you are kind to yourself. 

If you’re finding an anniversary or special day without your pet difficult, then try to talk to somebody about it. 

Finding something to do to mark the day can be helpful and turn a sad occasion into a good memory.

Which of these activities would you like to try?

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support