Author Archives: TheRalphSite

Write a letter to your pet (pet loss activities for children and young people)

If your pet has died or gone missing, you may feel like you have things you wish you could say to them.

One of the brilliant things about our pets is that they’re good listeners. When they’re no longer here with us, it can feel strange not having them to talk to anymore.

Something that can really help is to write a letter to your pet, telling them all the thoughts and feelings you’re having.

Things you could include in your letter to your pet

There isn’t a right or wrong way to write a letter to your pet, so you can say anything. Also, you don’t just have to write one letter. You can write to your pet whenever you feel like talking to them.

To help you get started, here are a few ideas.

Tell your pet how much fun you had with them

Can you think about a time when your pet really made you laugh or you did something special together? Try writing about your favourite memory or the favourite things you did together every day.

Tell your pet how they made you feel

Did they make you feel safe, calm or loved? Did you see them as one of your best friends or a member of your family? You could write all about those feelings in your letter.

Describe the best thing about your pet

Because you lived with your pet, you knew all the things about them that made them special, even what they were like when they were sleeping or eating.

In your letter to your pet, you could tell them what you thought was the best thing about them. We know it can be really hard to pick just one thing, so how about writing a list of all of your favourite things?

What you miss about your pet

Your letter to your pet could be a good place to talk about what it is you miss about them. Maybe you miss walks with your dog or your cat falling asleep on your bed at night. Maybe you had a guinea pig and you miss the sound of them “wheeking” for food every time you open the fridge.

Again, there’s no right thing to say. All that matters is how you’re feeling.

If your pet was here now, what do you wish they were doing?

If your pet could be here with you right now, what would they be doing? What would you wish for them? What did they like to do when they were happy?

You could share those wishes in your letter.

Some prompts to help you write

If you’re still not sure what to say in your letter, we’ve put together the start of some sentences for you.

Try picking one or two and seeing what you can say to your pet to finish the sentence:

  • I want to say that…
  • I miss you when…
  • I want you to know that…
  • I am feeling…
  • You were…
  • My favourite memory of you will always be…

Grief for a pet can cause us to have lots of different thoughts and feelings. It’s okay to talk about these in your letter, even if you feel angry or sad at the moment. The great thing about your pet was that they loved you whatever mood you were in and that will never change.

If you don’t enjoy writing letters

You may not have written many letters in your life, so writing a letter to your pet might feel strange and a bit too much like something you’d do at school. Some people love writing while others don’t!

You could try one of these activities instead as a way to share how you feel about your pet:

  • Write a short poem
  • Draw or paint a picture
  • Create a comic book or graphic novel about your pet
  • Keep a diary
  • Make a photobook about your pet

When your letter is finished

If you do write a letter, what you do with it once it’s finished is up to you. You could put it in a memory box for your pet, seal it in an envelope and put it away somewhere special or even bury it in your favourite spot in the garden.

All that matters is that you are able to say whatever you want to say.

You could ask another member of your family (or a friend or teacher) to help you write the letter or read what you’ve written to them when your letter is finished. This can be a great way to get everyone talking about your pet and share happy memories together.

It’s okay to smile and laugh and be happy about your good times with your pet. We guarantee that they loved it when you were smiling and they wouldn’t want you to be sad.

If you do write a letter to your pet, we’d love to hear more about it. Feel free to leave a comment below to tell us what you included. Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support


Your pet memory box: Eight ideas of what to include

A pet memory box is a beautiful way to remember a pet who has died or gone missing. It lets you safely store precious items that remind you of your pet, including their belongings, so that you can take them out and rediscover them for many years to come.

Any age group can do this activity and it’s something you can do alone or with other members of your family.

Choosing the right pet memory box

Before you think about what items to include in your pet memory box, you’ll need to choose the box itself.

There are many different options.

If you want a truly personalised memory box, you could opt for a plain wooden or cardboard box and then decorate it yourself. The decorations could include pictures, paintings, ribbons, drawings or anything that you feel represents your pet.

Alternatively, you could have a look online for pet memory boxes. Some businesses will personalise a memory box for you by carving your pet’s name, picture or special dates on to the box.

Here are some examples of the types of boxes available (we just did a search on Etsy but Google will show you more ideas).

Some pet memory boxes include a space for a photo of your pet in the lid or a special saying.

You will also want to think about the size of the memory box based on what you want to keep in it and where you plan to put it.

Eight items you could include in a pet memory box

Having chosen and decorated your memory box, it’s now time to think about what you want to put in it.

These are eight of our favourite ideas:

Your pet’s collar, tag, lead or bridle

If your memory box is for a dog, cat or horse then they probably wore an item like a collar, harness or bridle. The memory box is the perfect place to store this. You might also want to include their identity tag.

Touch can create detailed, lasting memories and you’ve probably touched your pet’s collar or ID tag thousands of times. Being able to touch these items in the future will unlock lovely, tactile memories of your pet.

A paw print or fur clipping

Many vet practices or pet crematoriums now offer to take a paw print – often in clay or a similar material – of a pet who has died. Some will also take a small fur or feather clipping and present it to you in a little presentation bottle.

While it isn’t always possible to get these keepsakes, it’s worth asking if they can be obtained.

Being able to look at a pet’s paw print can be comforting and meaningful, another physical way of remembering your pet.

Your pet’s favourite toy

Whether your pet was a dog, cat, rabbit, rat or budgie (or, indeed, any other species), the chances are that they had a favourite toy.

A pet memory box can be the perfect place to keep this treasured item. It doesn’t matter if it’s a well-chewed tennis ball or the decoration from an aquarium. What matters is all of the wonderful memories you have of your pet enjoying that item.

Photos

Some people find looking at photos of their pet comforting, while others find it tough, especially in the early days.

Eventually, though, most of us enjoy looking at photos of our past pets because the pictures bring back happy memories.

Why not print out some of your favourite photos of your pet and pop them in the memory box?

They could be photos that make you laugh, photos of a special memory or even some of the countless photos you took of your pet doing nothing in particular.

Your pet’s bed or blanket

If the memory box is big enough, you might want to pop your pet’s bed or favourite blanket in there.

If size is an issue, another option is to keep a small piece of fabric from the bed or blanket as a reminder of the texture and design.

Alternatively, you could look on Google for a craftsperson who is able to turn your pet’s bedding into a soft toy keepsake. Again, Etsy has some wonderful examples of pet memorial toys, including ones made from a pet’s bedding.

A letter to your pet

Are there things you wish you could tell your pet? Perhaps you want to tell them how much you love them or let them know how sorry you are that they died.

Maybe you want to record the story of their life, including how you met them or the things they enjoyed doing.

A wonderful way to express these thoughts is to write a letter to your pet. You can tell them everything that’s in your heart and pop it in the memory box for safekeeping.

Your favourite memories

We love the idea of writing down memories of your pet on small pieces of paper and then adding them to the memory box to be picked out and rediscovered in the future.

If you live with other people, you could invite everyone to write down their memories and add them to the box. This can be a lovely way to discover new things about your pet and what they meant to other family members.

For an extra special touch, you could write your memories on origami hearts or an origami animal that reminds you of your pet.

Sympathy cards

If you received sympathy cards from your friends and family when your pet died, you might want to keep these in your pet’s memory box too.

Sympathy cards are a reminder that other people care about you and the loss you have experienced. The fact that they can be re-read at any time provides a lasting sense of comfort.

If you do make a pet memory box, we’d love to hear more about it. Feel free to leave a comment below to tell us what you included.

Need to talk? Our supportive pet loss community offers a safe and compassionate space to grieve.

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

After your pet dies: pet loss information for young people, age 7-13

Are you a child or young person whose pet has died or gone missing? You may have lots of questions about what has happened and your thoughts and feelings.

We’ve put together some pet loss information that we hope will give you some answers.

Why do pets die?

Pets, like people, die when they are very old, very sick or because of an accident that stops their body (including their heart and brain) from being able to work anymore.

Sadly, most pets don’t live as long as humans. This means that when we welcome them into our families, we know there will come a day that they die and we will have to say goodbye.

What is bereavement?

Bereavement means losing someone through death. It could be a person or a pet – anyone who is important to you.
Here on The Ralph Site, we support people when their pet has died.

Is bereavement the same as grief?

Bereavement and grief are slightly different but they also have lots in common. 

The best way to explain it is that grief is a response to any kind of loss. You might feel grief about moving to a new house or a new school and leaving your old one.

When you experience a bereavement, you feel grief that’s been caused by someone you care about dying.

What does bereavement or pet loss grief feel like?

People often think of grief as feeling very sad all the time but it isn’t really like that. 

Grief can make us have all sorts of feelings. We can feel sad, angry, guilty, worried, shocked or relieved, bouncing from one feeling to another. You might wake up feeling OK and then suddenly feel very angry or like crying later in the day.

You may even feel numb, which means you find it hard to feel anything at all.

You can be grieving but feel happy sometimes. It doesn’t mean you don’t care.

Grief can make you feel tired or like you don’t want to do the things you normally enjoy. Even talking to your friends or doing your schoolwork can feel too hard.

You might want to talk about your pet all the time or you might want to keep busy so you don’t have time to think.

We can also feel grief in our bodies. You may get aches and pains (perhaps a stomach ache or headache) or find it hard to sleep.

You might want to eat more or less or feel butterflies in your tummy, like when you’re nervous. 

These physical symptoms will go away with time.

There is no “right” way to feel when a pet dies. Everyone experiences grief differently.

Will other people understand how you feel?

Some people will understand how you feel. Other people won’t.

A hard part about losing your pet is that people outside of your family may not understand or know how much you loved them. 

Even people in the same family can feel grief about losing a pet differently. 

Some people don’t have pets so they don’t know how awful it can feel when a pet dies.

You might be worried about how upset you feel about your pet dying. Some people say they feel “silly” for being so sad. But it

isn’t silly to be upset about losing someone who was your friend and who loved you.

It’s OK to feel grief.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD A PDF COPY OF THE CONTENT OF THIS PAGE HERE.

What can help you to feel better?

It can help to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. This might be a teacher, a grown-up or some of your friends.

If people know what you’re going through, they are more likely to be kind and understand if you act differently to normal. 

When a person dies, we say goodbye to them by having a funeral but that isn’t always possible with a pet.

You might find it helps to do something special to remember your pet and how much you loved them. This is called a “memorial” – you can find nine ideas for memorials for your pet here.

Sometimes, it’s easier to write about how we feel than talk about it. You could try writing a letter to your pet and tell them everything you’re thinking about.

How long will it take to feel better?

It’s impossible to say how long you will feel grief about your pet dying.

You will probably always have a piece of you that loves and misses your pet. As time goes on though, you will gradually start to enjoy new things and your life will grow enough that you’ll think about more than your grief.

Feelings can go in circles. 

It’s completely normal to have good and bad days for a long time. You might feel like you’ve “got over” feeling angry and then suddenly feel really cross again. You might suddenly burst into tears even though you didn’t realise you were feeling sad.

Don’t worry, that’s a normal part of grieving.

Most people find that things do get easier in the end. 

Always remember that you are allowed to laugh and have fun. Your pet loved you very much and would not want you to be sad. When you were happy, it made them happy too.

Is it really OK to talk about grief and about your pet?

Yes, it is!

Sometimes, grief can be a hard thing to talk about. It can also be hard to talk about the pet we miss.

You might be worried that if you talk about your pet, it will upset someone else in your family or make them feel unhappy.

People who know lots about grief say that talking about it can be one of the best ways to feel better. Sharing your memories can make you feel like your pet is still around and can help you to remember all of your favourite things about them.

Definitely tell someone you trust if you want to talk. If you don’t want to talk though, that’s OK too. 

What if I can’t stop worrying about death?

When someone we love dies, it can make us think about something bad happening to other people and pets that we love.

If you’re experiencing these worries, it can help to talk to a grown-up you trust. They’ve probably had the same thoughts too at some time in their life.

If you have other pets, remind yourself that they are alive and well. They have lots of living to do and you can help to make every day happy and fun for them. Even when people and animals get sick, most get better. With animals, vets are people who help pets stay healthy.

We are so sorry that your pet has died. You will always remember them and how much you love them. We’re sure they loved you very much too.

We would like to create some more blogs and activities to help children and young people who are grieving a pet. If you can think of anything that you think would be helpful or you would like to know, please ask a grown-up to leave a comment below to let us know.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD A PDF COPY OF THE CONTENT OF THIS PAGE HERE.

7 self-care tips for when you’re grieving a pet

If you’ve recently suffered a pet bereavement, you may be finding life hard.

As we often mention here on The Ralph Site, our society has created lots of rituals and behaviours to help us cope when a human dies, but it can be harder to find space to grieve when you are mourning a pet.

The reality is that pet bereavement can be as devastating as losing a human friend or family member. Research from John Archer in 1996 found that pet carers often derive more satisfaction from their relationships with their pets than with humans because of the presence of unconditional love.

Sadly, it isn’t always easy to get time off work when a pet dies and you may feel that your friends and family don’t understand the extent of your grief.

This is why it’s incredibly important to prioritise your self-care at this time.

When you’re grieving, it can be hard to do the most basic or normal of tasks. You may even feel angry that the world can carry on as normal when you’re faced with such a profound loss.

Self-care will help you to navigate life and give you the emotional and physical resources to eventually move forward in your grief.

Here are some self-care tips to help you:

1. Give yourself time to grieve

It can be tempting to try to power through your grief. You might feel that if you ignore it and keep yourself busy, your feelings will go away.

Although there is no right or wrong way to grieve, most bereavement experts say that real healing takes place when you face your grief and actively deal with it.

For this reason, it’s important to let yourself feel all of your feelings.

You might even need to schedule this into your day. This is something known as “grief dosing” when you set aside a block of time every day during which you give yourself permission to feel your grief without censor.

You might spend this time crying, talking, looking at photos, shouting, journalling – whatever works for you.

Grief dosing doesn’t have to be an unhappy time. You could spend the time thinking about happy memories.

The idea is to give yourself space in the day to bring your emotions to the surface so that you don’t bury how you’re feeling.

2. Prioritise meeting your basic needs

Grieving takes a lot of energy. You might feel like you don’t have any left to cook dinner, go to work or even have a shower.

It doesn’t help that grief, especially in its early stages, can mess with your appetite and disrupt your sleep.

Knowing this, it’s essential that you make a conscious effort to meet your basic needs.
Give yourself time to rest, even if you aren’t able to drop off to sleep. Stock up on healthy snacks so that you can graze on nourishing food little and often throughout the day. Set reminders to drink water throughout the day.

Try to get outside at least once a day, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes.

3. Keep up your routines for other animals in your home

If you have other animal companions in your life, they’ll need you to maintain their usual routines. This is especially important if the pet that has died was their close companion as they will be grieving too.

But even if the animals had little to do with each other, most pets thrive on routine and this can help you to structure your day.

4. Reach out if you need support

Everyone grieves differently. Your grief also will depend on your unique relationship with the pet that has died or gone missing.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness of grief can often translate into isolation, simply because it feels like no one else understands exactly how you feel.

It’s tempting to retreat and spend more time alone when you’re grieving. You may feel like the people around you don’t understand or that you don’t want to bring people down with the pain you’re feeling.

However, we would urge you to reach out if you need support. There is no shame in wanting to talk.

Look for understanding, empathetic friends and family members. But please don’t despair if your usual support network isn’t able to help.

Sometimes, it can be helpful to talk to other bereaved pet carers – it’s why we set up The Ralph Site. You will always find people to talk to within The Ralph Site Facebook pet loss support group.

The Blue Cross offers a free and confidential pet bereavement support service if you’d like to talk to someone about your loss.

Also, if you’re experiencing any of the physical symptoms associated with grief, you might want to book an appointment with your GP.

5. Create your own bereavement rituals

As we’ve mentioned above, most of us are familiar with the rituals we observe when a human dies. Things like sending and receiving sympathy cards, arranging a funeral or managing our loved one’s affairs all play an important role in the mourning process.

These rituals are often absent for our beloved pets.

But they don’t need to be.

Choosing a memorial for your pet can be a powerful expression of your loss. It’s a way of saying, “My friend lived and they mattered”.

Many people take comfort from having a memorial to visit or sit with, whether that’s a special tree in the garden or a memory box.

6. Be kind to yourself

Guilt and pet loss seem to go hand in hand, probably because our pets are so dependent on us in every aspect of their lives. Because they can’t talk to us, there will always be an element of not knowing whether we made the choices for them that they would make for themselves.

You may be going over and over the circumstances that led to your pet dying or going missing. You might feel cross with yourself or as though something you did or didn’t do caused your loss.

The thing is that it’s very hard to practice self-care if you’re constantly being unkind to yourself. It’s so important that you view yourself with kindness. What would you say to a loved one who was suffering? It’s time to show yourself the same compassion!

Recognise that your intentions towards your pet were only ever good. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be feeling the way you do now! Focus on your intentions towards your pet and know that they are what matters.

Your pet would not want you to be unkind to yourself. They loved everything about you.

7. Breathe mindfully

Grief has a way of pulling our thoughts into a loop that focuses on the past and what has been lost. At other times, it can make us worry about the future and what that will look like without our pet.

Mindful breathing and other exercises are a great way to bring your mind back to the present and reduce the fight-flight stress response associated with grief.

Bonus tip: Give yourself time

Grief doesn’t come with an expiry date. With pet loss grief, people often feel that they shouldn’t be as upset as they are or that they should quickly get over their loss. You may be having these thoughts too.

In reality, you love your pet and it’s natural that you’re mourning their loss. There is no time limit on this. It isn’t a case of one day being “done” with grieving.

So, please give yourself time. Let yourself grieve. Take away any pressure to “fix” how you feel. There is no right or wrong, no deadline, just how you feel in any given moment.

Need to talk? Our supportive pet loss community offers a safe and compassionate space to grieve.

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

Rehoming a pet: How to cope with the grief

If you’ve given up a pet for rehoming, it may have been one of the hardest decisions of your life. It’s likely that you deeply loved and cherished your pet but you came to the decision that your family wasn’t the right one for them to really thrive.

As much as we would all like to make a life-long commitment to our pets, the reality is that this isn’t always possible. 

Behavioural issues, a change in circumstances, poor health (yours or your pet’s), clashes within the family, work and family commitments, financial struggles – these can all feed into the decision to rehome.

Having said goodbye to your pet, perhaps to a rescue centre or foster home, you may find that you are experiencing grief that’s as strong as if your pet had died.

However, you may feel that you don’t have a right to grieve because you voluntarily surrendered your pet for rehoming or that other people don’t understand your loss. 

It can be incredibly hard to talk about this and we want you to know that you’re not alone.

The grief and guilt of rehoming a pet

The grief of rehoming tends to be layered with emotions such as guilt and shame. You may feel like you’ll never forgive yourself for this decision. 

Giving a pet up for rehoming is never easy and there are very few people who can do this without any misgivings. 

People who have lived through this experience often say that they still reflect on it years later. However, the majority also believe it was the right thing to do, maybe because it is rarely a decision that’s taken lightly.

What’s clear is that it’s important to show yourself compassion at this difficult time.

We’ve put together some tips to help you find peace and comfort:

  • Acknowledge your grief

Regardless of the circumstances, you have lost a pet for whom you cared deeply. It’s natural to grieve and it’s important that you allow yourself to experience your feelings. 

Loss is loss, no matter what, and your grief is valid. 

  • Reflect on your reasons for rehoming

Most people who give a pet up for rehoming do so because they no longer feel able to adequately meet all of the animal’s needs. 

It takes great courage to admit that an animal may be better off in a different environment or with different people caring for them.

Your needs matter too. Maybe you’ve been doing everything possible to care for your pet but to your own detriment or that of your family. 

When you feel able, allow yourself to reflect on your reasons for rehoming. Remember, you had everyone’s best interests at heart.

  • Animals adapt

Animals are survivors and far better able to live in the moment than us humans. Of course, they remember their past experiences and people but they also adapt surprisingly well to new situations.

Your pet will not be placing blame or judging you. They won’t be reflecting on what went wrong or why life has changed. Yes, they may feel worried, uncertain or even scared at first but they will soon adjust to their new normal.

Have you explored the possibility of receiving some updates about how your pet is settling and life with their new family? This may reassure you that they’re well and loved. However, in some scenarios, it is not possible to get updates.

  • Ignore other people’s opinions

The issue of rehoming a pet is deeply emotive. Often, the only time people will hear about the topic is on television when abuse cases and neglect provide the emotional hook for the programme.

Of course, these cases are horrendous but they are completely separate to rehoming a pet out of love and a commitment to doing the right thing for them.

It’s very easy to judge someone from the outside looking in and you may find that some people do this to you. However, you know the truth of your situation and what is right for your pet and your family.

It’s no one else’s business because they’ve never experienced your unique circumstances. Remind yourself that anyone who’s judgemental of your decision to rehome doesn’t have all the facts. Therefore, they’re judging a fictional scenario.

  • Know your sadness will bring someone else happiness

While you may not have been able to offer your pet the right environment for their needs, their new home will hopefully be the perfect fit.

You know how lovable and special your pet is and now someone else will get to experience great happiness because of your decision to rehome.

  • Don’t feel bad about feeling relief

As well as feelings of grief, guilt and more, you may also have a sense of relief, of a weight being lifted, that you don’t have to factor your pet’s needs into your daily life anymore.

This can be confusing and distressing but, again, it’s an entirely natural response to resolving what has been an ongoing source of stress.

  • It’s time to show yourself kindness and compassion

Right now, your thoughts are probably consumed by your pet’s welfare. You’re wondering if they’re okay, if they’re missing you, if they feel sad or rejected.

Remind yourself that you handed your pet over to someone responsible who would take care of their needs.

Your priority has to be to show yourself some kindness and compassion. What are your needs right now?

Reach out if you need to talk to someone. Rest, eat good food, exercise, do things that light you up inside. 

As with all grief, you will have good days and bad days and eventually find a way to make sense of this life-changing experience. 

Just know that whatever you’re feeling, it matters.

Need to talk? Our supportive pet loss community offers a safe and compassionate space to grieve.

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