Got Pets? What You Must Do If One Dies

By Paul Thomas Zenki

Take this step to allow your pets to properly grieve …

My father’s dogs were fiercely protective of him. We’d managed to keep Dad at home during his last days, in a hospital bed we set up in the front room, and when he died we were worried how the dogs would react to strangers taking him away.

As it turned out, we didn’t even have to put them outside. They sat quietly by as the men moved my father’s body from the bed to the gurney and wheeled him out the door. Then Cocoa wandered back to the bedroom, curled up in her dog bed where she used to sleep all night by his side, and whimpered pitifully as I tried to comfort her.

I don’t fully understand how, but animals have a knowledge of death. They recognize it. They know what it is, just as well as we do.

Those dogs knew my father was no longer in that body the men were taking away.

Now I love dogs, but I don’t have the means to properly care for them. More than anything in the world a dog desires to be part of a pack, and with just me in the house and having to be gone as much as I am, it’s not a proper home for a dog.

Instead, I keep cats. All that began back in the 1990s when I was living in a house out in the county that had been built by the then-landowner sometime in the 1940s. The structure was a bit loose in the joints, and was vulnerable to mice and voles who nested in the ceilings and snacked on the dried beans in my pantry. And so, the cats.

Sara, a gorgeous gray tabby, was a rescue from the shelter just down the road. Jackie, the tortie with the gimp front paw, had adopted a friend in town as a feral kitten, and when he had to move I was happy to take her as a companion to Sara.

But one summer a panther of a tom took up under my house. I managed to trap him and he about tore himself to shreds attacking the cage. He was FIV positive and had to be put down. I believed Jackie had tussled with him so I had both the cats tested. Jackie was positive too and eventually there came the time I had to have her put down as well.

There is a beautiful soul of a veterinarian in my area who makes housecalls and she came out so that Jackie could be at home at the end. She died in my arms as I cried my eyes out.

I buried Jackie out in the back yard where she so loved to sun herself on spring mornings and autumn afternoons. I lined her grave with bricks and placed a heavy stone on top so the coyotes wouldn’t dig her up.

But before I did that, I let her lie for a while in the room where she died. So her sister could come and see her, smell her. Know she was gone.

If I’d had to take Jackie in to the vet, I would have brought her body home and done the same thing. I’ve known too many people who’ve had pets worrying and grieving to no end because one day their lifelong companion left and never returned. I did not want Sara to go through that.

I tell this story not to be maudlin, but simply to put an idea out there which, in the moment of grief over loss, a person might not be of a mind to think about. It is a ritual so easy to overlook, and once the opportunity has passed, there is often no going back, no putting things to right for the animals we love who are still with us.

So if you have pets, and one dies — as we all shall — do not be too hasty. Let the deceased lie for a short while in state. Let their brothers and sisters gather to them. Because they, too, will grieve. And yes, I assure you, they will understand.

Header image by Pixabay

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Paul Thomas Zenki is an essayist, ghostwriter, copywriter, marketer, songwriter, and consultant living in Athens, GA.