For those of us who have pets, we know they are more than just a pet. A dog, cat or any pet can feel like your brother, sister or even baby. We love them the same way our mothers and siblings love us. We would do anything for them.
My family got my dog shortly after I turned four years old. Our personalities were so similar. We both loved to play outside. Growing up in Wisconsin, we both loved to run around in the snow together. We hated the occasional hot days we got in Wisconsin. I would pawn my vegetables off on him at dinner. We fought the way a brother and sister did, but we also loved each other and played the way siblings would. I would chase him around the house when he was a puppy because all I wanted to do was hold him, just the way a sister would torture her younger brother. Whenever I cried, he would lay beside me and give me doggy kisses. He really was like my little brother.
As we both grew older, our relationship changed a bit. When I was 15 years old, I was still young and plenty immature. But my dog was 11 years old, and he was getting tired. I could see he was beginning to lack the enthusiasm for walks that he once had. He couldn’t get up as fast as he used to. He couldn’t hear and smell the way he once had. But he still enjoyed his life. We put him on heart medication when he was 12 because the vet said he needed it to stay alive. The amount of time he slept each day had increased, but he still had the spunk he had when he was a puppy.
A few years later when I left for college, I prepared myself for what I knew was the inevitable. Every time I got to be with him, I told myself to cherish it because it could be my last time. The week before fall semester started, my dog was not doing well. He wasn’t eating, and he had a lot of trouble standing up. I thought it was the end. He was 15 years old and had lived a great life. But remarkably, he made a comeback. A week later, he was just fine. But I knew that wouldn’t last too long.
In mid-September, my mom called me crying on a Thursday morning, saying she didn’t know what to do. My dog was crying out in pain, and she didn’t know what she could do to help him. I didn’t know either. I kept in touch with my mom that day, as we tried to figure out what to do. I cried to friends and in each of my classes. Even though I had been preparing myself, it was still harder than I thought it would be. That night, I went to bed feeling better. I told myself that things would work out the way they are supposed to. The next morning when I was in class, my mom texted me and told me to call her when my classes ended. I knew what that meant, but surprisingly, I didn’t start crying. I called her immediately after my class, and she told me that he had passed away sometime between 6 in the morning when she checked on him and 9 a.m. when she woke up. I instantly broke into tears. I had never lost someone that close to me before. It was a moment that I had been dreading for a long time.
I was heartbroken and knew I needed to grieve in order to be able to move past my loss. Losing a pet is probably something that a lot of us will have to endure at some point, and it’s really hard to deal with. It’s also different losing a pet, while you are away at college, then when you’re home with your whole family.
So, I would like to tell you how I dealt with it, in the hopes that it may help you if you ever go through the same situation.
- Be sad. No one expects you not to cry, in fact your friends will probably find it weirder if you don’t cry than if you do. Cry to friends and cry on your own. It can be hard to let yourself really cry. When something really bad or upsetting in my life happens, I tend to compartmentalize and never get upset. I know I’m not alone in that, but I promise you it’s best for yourself if you give yourself time to cry. Crawl in your bed and cry until you can’t cry anymore.
- Don’t try to keep going like nothing is wrong. Take at least the day to do nothing but be sad. If you feel like you want to get out and do something, do something low key because once you’re out, you probably won’t feel like doing much. Make sure everyone you’re with knows what you’re going through, so all of your friends can be extra sensitive to you, and no one has to ask you the stupid question of what’s wrong.
- Be sad before your pet passes, if you know your pet is sick or just getting old. Just because he/she is still alive doesn’t mean you can’t be a little sad. I’m not saying you should be sad all the time. You should definitely try to enjoy the time you do have left, but getting sad occasionally is healthy.
- Call your friends to talk or have them come over. Just because you’re at school doesn’t mean you have to grieve alone. Your friends will want to be there for you, and probably a few of them have even gone through a similar situation.
- Talk to your family on the phone a lot. You’re all going through the same thing.
- But think about whether or not you want to go home. Your first instinct might be to get in your car and drive straight home, but that might not always be the best decision for you. Going home might make it harder for you to get back into your normal routine at school a few days later. It also can make it harder for you to feel better when you’re surrounded by a bunch of other people who are crying. You definitely should talk to your family as you all grieve, but if you’re around them for a few days straight, that can make it hard for any of you to get better.
- Think about all the memories you have. Some of them will make you cry more and be more sad, but that’s just part of the grieving process. It will also help you to focus on the life your pet got to live and not the fact that he/she is no longer with you.
- Look at photos of you with your pet, if you have them. If all your pictures are at home, you can look at them if you decide to go home. But if you don’t decide to go home, make sure you look at them the next time you’re home, even if that’s months later. Looking at pictures can help you recall some of the wonderful times you and your pet got to spend together.
- During a break from school, try to even make a special photo album with pictures of your pet. It will be something that you can look back at later to remember the wonderful time you guys had together.
- Don’t limit the amount of time you spend grieving. Everyone heals at different rates. Your boyfriend might have only needed a day to grieve when his dog died, but you may need two weeks to grieve a loss.
- Months or even years later, when you think about your loss and get sad, let yourself be sad. Cry if you need to. Personally, I was really sad and laid in bed for about four days, but after that, I felt better. I didn’t cry anymore for about month. Then, my roommate’s boyfriend’s dog passed away from cancer, and she was really upset. As I was trying to console her, I started crying about my dog. I still get sad and cry. It’s less frequent now and I’ll go longer amounts of time without crying, but I still think I’ll shed tears for my dog when I’m 40 years old.
I hope that you don’t experience the loss of a pet during college, but if you do, I hope that some of my ways of dealing with it will help you.