The Overwhelming Sadness of Losing a Pet

When I Lost my Furry Best Friend

Our Golden Kolby, painted with pastels. Titled "Perplexed"!

Our Golden Kolby, painted with pastels. Titled “Perplexed”!

Finding a pet that becomes your best friend and long time companion is a gift. Kolby, our Golden Retriever, with whom we spent fifteen wonderful years with, was a blessing to me and to our whole family. Being a cat lover most of my life, before Kolby, gave me the fulfillment of having animals as pets. But when my youngest son, at age seven, started asking for a dog, we felt the time was right to add an addition to our family.  My love of Golden’s made it an easy choice on what breed to look for. Also, we wanted to help with the over population of dogs and look for a rescue. A wonderful organization we looked into was the Golden Retriever Rescue of Florida. This organization made the search much easier and, even tho the criteria is stiff in the approval process, we knew that we would find the right dog for us. It took many weekend travels to look at dogs ready for adoption, as one of our main considerations was to get a dog that was already trained and was at least a year old.

The early years shown here with our kitten KC. Both no longer with us.

Kolby shown here with our kitten KC. Both are no longer here with us.

Kolby was a beautiful red Golden whom we met in our search, but when we visited her, she was a bit high strung and continually jumped up on my son, and therefore, Blake was a bit scared of her. So we continued our search, but in the back of our minds felt we should give Kolby another chance. We decided to go back and visit her again.  This time she was much calmer, but still playful. Blake instantly took to her and so did I. We decided she was the one and took her home that day. There were so many wonderful things I can say, too many to list here on how this dog changed our life for the better. Of course, there was some adjustments, mainly learning to walk on a leash without pulling your arm out of the socket, but we worked with her and eventually, she just fit in like a glove. An absolutely perfect dog, in so many ways… one being that she never licked you. This can become annoying in some dogs, something we did not have to contend with, which made loving her even better. She grew up with my son and my too older children and was just another kid in the mix. We loved her to the moon and back.

She made a great mom too!

She made a great mom too!

Absolutely the perfect dog!

Life was wonderful with our new family member and continued this way for fifteen good long years. Until that day comes, when you know that their time here is almost over, you look in their eyes and you know what you must do.  She was asking in her subtle way, I am ready to cross over the Rainbow Bridge. This was the most heart-wrenching event that I have ever experienced beyond losing my parents. I truly thought I would not make it through my grief. It has been eight years and two Maltese dogs later and I still feel the grief and love I felt for so many years.

How to get Past the Grief!

It took a very long time for me to not cry when I thought of my sweet dog Kolby. Working through my grief took an unusual turn. I was very close to retirement from teaching and was searching for something to fill my time once that day came. One day I picked up a paintbrush, another story for another time. But yes, I started to paint and soon found yet another love. In the meantime, we adopted two other dogs, Lily and Daisy, sister Maltese puppies, a year apart in age. I was starting to feel good once more and luckily these two pups became great subjects to paint. I hung examples of my dog portraits in my office at work and colleagues began to take notice. One thing led to another, and I found myself painting my co-workers, family and friends dogs and cats. I then began noticing a pattern…most of the dogs I was asked to paint a portrait of, were dogs who had passed. Grieving pet owners wanted desperately to remember their furry friends and family members. I was given a gift! Also, motivation for capturing the soul of these loving pets so that they would not be forgotten. I began to see, and continue to see many tears of joy when I capture the essence of their beloved pet. I found my way through my grief by giving back to others something to help them through theirs and then asked myself, what can I offer pet owners in the way of advice to help them get through this period of mourning. Here is what I came up with…

7 Strategies for Coping with the Loss of a Pet

1. Talk through it. “The best thing you can do is find people who will listen as you talk  about your pet.  Find a support group, or call a hotline — many veterinary schools have them — and take as long as you need.

2. Address any feelings of guilt. While many people hope their pet will pass quietly in his sleep, it may not happen that way. As an owner, you may need to face the possibility of euthanasia. Many pet owners struggle with feelings of guilt at having to make that choice for their beloved friend. Don’t think of it as taking your pet’s life, but see it as a privilege and a gift to spare them from those very hard end stages of the dying process, when there’s a lot of pain and suffering.

3. Consider a ceremony. Many people find great comfort in gathering with friends and family to remember their cherished pet, either with a ceremony before or during euthanasia, or after the pet has passed.  Having a memorial service or a small ceremony can help with closure. The ceremonies can be gut-wrenching, but also very cathartic.

4. If you have children, help them with remembrances. Children feel the loss deeply, too. Allow them to talk as much as they need to about their sadness. Giving them the opportunity to do something physically sometimes helps kids work through their pain. Children can draw a picture, make a clay paw print or release a balloon into the sky for their special pet. We added a plaque with Kolby’s name on it with the dates of birth and death engraved on it. It lies in the garden next to her water and food bowls which we made into planters.

5. Take your time. It’s important to go at your own pace. Deal with your grief as long as you need to, and don’t feel rushed to “get over” your sorrow. Everyone’s grief is personal and each of us handles it differently. Kolby’s leash and collar remain hanging next to the back door and something I could not remove. They are there still to this day next to Lily and Daisy’s leashes.

6. Tie up loose ends. If you’re having lingering questions or doubts about how your pet died, make an appointment with your veterinarian to get your questions answered. Don’t leave yourself wondering for years to come — be sure you can move forward without any questions or doubts.

7. Memorialize your pet. Find a way that is meaningful to you to honor your pet. Planting trees or memorial gardens, volunteering, making a donation to a favorite animal charity or installing a plaque in the yard are some ways to keep your pet’s memory alive.  Having a pet portrait painted to hang is a great way to honor your pet and can be painted from your very own photos. Among the myriad other options are cremation or memorial urns and placement in a pet cemetery. — Vetstreet.com

Number 7 became my way of helping…

…myself and many others cope with the loss of their pet. I started taking commissions at that point and have continued this tradition of helping myself and others find peace by holding onto a special memory of their beloved pet. It is why I do what I do….it gives me great pleasure to see those tears of joy in such a loving gift.

One of my very first pet portraits. This one in remembrance of my Kolby girl.

One of my very first pet portraits. This one in remembrance of my Kolby girl.

Below are just a few more of the Pets I have painted in remembrance of a their special life!

Sox, a Dutch Wolf Hound, with his favorite hedgehog toy.

Sox, a Dutch Wolf Hound, with his favorite hedgehog toy.

Harley is also no longer with us and is a beautiful Golden White Retriever. Harley may not be with his family now but he will never be forgotten.

Harley, a beautiful Golden Retriever. may not be with his family now but he will never be forgotten.                                       

This cute Corgi crossed the Rainbow Bridge recently and is a beautiful gift for her family and her mom for Mother's Day!

This cute Corgi crossed the Rainbow Bridge recently and is a beautiful gift for her family and her mom for Mother’s Day!

Chocolate Lab Tebow , a beautiful Lab who loved the outdoors and the Colorado mountains.

Chocolate Lab, Tebow, a beautiful Lab who loved the outdoors and the Colorado mountains.

Petey, an Australian Sheppard, that was the love of my friend and neighbor Jerry.

Petey, an Australian Sheppard, that was the love of my friend and neighbor Jerry.

Madison, a sweet little Min Pin that was a heartfelt gift and reminder for his owner.

Madison, a sweet little Min Pin that was a heartfelt gift and reminder for his owner. 

Maddie, this beautiful Cocker Spaniel was a poster dog for "Cocker Cuteness"!

Maddie, this beautiful Cocker Spaniel was a poster dog for “Cocker Cuteness”!

Roxy, a sweetheart of a Corgi, with the wonderful big eyes.

Roxy, a sweetheart of a Corgi, with the wonderful big eyes.

Katie, a special Fox Terrier, who loved to watch goldfish in her pond.

Katie, a special Fox Terrier, who loved to watch goldfish in her pond.

Astro and Junior, two great English Bulldogs, sitting in the back of my son's truck as they always did.

Astro and Junior, two great English Bulldogs, sitting in the back of my son’s truck as they always did.

How have you handled grief losing your furry friend? Please let me know in the comments below…I would love to hear.