Losing my first pet, Princess Kitty, who was one of my best friends, was something I knew I would never be prepared for, and when the time finally came, I was a wreck. All at once, a good day turned bad. A cat that was a part of my life for seventeen years was taken away from me and my emotions were all over the place. Not only was I devastated but I was also relieved, she was finally at peace; angry, I left in a hurry that day and didn’t say my routine goodbye to her; empty, I realized that something so small took up a large part of my life; and mostly confused, what was I supposed to do next? Why am I feeling so many emotions? Do I go to sleep in the bed that she passed away on just hours beforehand? Why do I already feel the need to replace her? It was truly an emotional experience.
I had to get over it quickly and push those feelings aside after grieving for only two days, because I had a routine to get back into. However, the fact that I was able to push it all aside so easily made me feel awful, like Princess’s death was just another bad day rather than a tragic loss.
It’s been three months now, and I’m ready to talk. I wanted to hear from other students at ODU who have experienced the loss of a pet, to hopefully justify my feelings by comparing them to what they went through. I want to let other students know that their grieving process can be related to. I created questions based on my own thoughts and emotions, and the responses I received were incredible.
“How did you find out about your pet(s) passing? Were you prepared or was it sudden?”
I found out about Princess’s passing from my mom who found her and told me that she fell asleep peacefully and never woke up, just how I hoped her passing would be. It was sudden, but she was old and her health was declining, so it was definitely her time to pass on.
Brooke Bain, a senior, lost her six year old golden retriever, Tucker, who was suffering with epilepsy. She stated that his medication wasn’t strong enough and they had to put him down, but with him being so young, his time ended too soon.
Senior Emily Agostini lost her twelve year old dog Miley in a traumatic incident that led to her family making the difficult choice to put her down in order to end her suffering. They knew she was older and her health was declining, but since Agostini was the one who found Miley she stated “I was slightly prepared for her to pass…once it actually happened I did not feel prepared anymore.”
Talha Asif, a junior, had to put her beloved pitbull boxer mix Dulce down due to illness. She stated that even though her family made an appointment to put Dulce down, it still felt sudden, and that she didn’t want to let her go but she knew her family had to do it for Dulce’s sake.
Bryan Hogue, an exercise science major, lost his fourteen year old labradoodle, Cody due to organ failure, which caused Cody’s health to decline rapidly. Bryan had only one day to prepare for Cody’s last moments, and they were spent surrounded by his family as he passed in Bryan’s arms.
Lastly, another exercise science major, Ciyera Allen lost her blue fawn pitbull Max at 11 years old. Max was in a lot of pain and wasn’t eating, so Ciyera’s family thought it was best to put him down so his pain and suffering could end.
“What was your grieving process? How long did this last? How did this make you feel, and did the way they pass have an impact on your grieving process or did it help?”
Everyone grieves differently and sometimes you need reassurance that your grieving process is valid. This was a huge obstacle for me to overcome and I was eager to hear if other students felt the way I did.
Agostini described how it took her months of good and bad days to get over Miley’s death. Since Miley’s death was so sudden and horrible, Agostini realized how she will raise her own animals in the future and will do her best to prevent any other accidents like Miley’s from occurring.
Bain said, “[My grieving process] lasted longer than I expected, I feel like people expect you to move on faster because they are just a pet, but he was my best friend.” This stuck out to me, since moving on so fast with my life almost felt pressuring. As if I couldn’t take a week or so to process my loss since my life doesn’t stop just because my best friend’s did. From Hogues similar feelings he stated, “Having to come home after long days of school and work expecting your best friend who was always there for you only to remember when you get home that he is no longer home” was one of the hardest things he has ever been through.
“Did you feel any emotions other than sadness and were any of these surprising or felt uncomfortable?”
Guilt, relief and discomfort are three words that aren’t usually put together yet can hold a tremendous grip on the hearts of people who have suffered a loss.
Bain described that her guilt came from whether or not putting Tucker down was the right choice, but was relieved that his suffering was at an end.
Agostini said she really only felt relief since Miley was facing great struggles in her later years.
Asif’s response broke my heart; “After having two dogs together for so long, it felt like we were missing something and that was uncomfortable.” I also have another cat, Ginny, and I watched her realize over time that Princess was gone, which kept my grief going for a bit longer than I would’ve liked. Ginny and Princess didn’t even like each other and barely interacted, so seeing Ginny act this way was gut wrenching.
Allen has a more positive outlook on Max’s passing, claiming that “It was positive because we took him for a drive, and he was having such a good time…then at the vet they gave [him] all the foods that [he] cannot eat, and I got to see him happy before he passed.” It’s moments like this where you can really give your pet all that they want before they pass on, which can make the process a bit easier.
“Did you make your pet(s)’ passing public or did you keep to yourself, and do you think this helped with your grieving process?”
I will admit, I rarely posted about Princess on Instagram, but I did make a post dedicated towards her. After doing this, I was able to see who really cared about this event in my life and it made me feel supported. Everyone who I interviewed stated that they made their pet’s passing public for the exact same reasons. It feels good to know that people want to be there for you, whether in person or via social media, and it creates a “permanent memory for the world” as Allen stated.
“Would you want to get another animal of the same kind, or would that be too difficult? If you already got another animal, how was that process? Did it bring up negative emotions or was it a positive experience?”
Since I already have Ginny, I automatically feel less inclined to not get another cat. I also feel as though I would compare everything about a new cat to Princess, and it’s too soon for that. I know I will want one of my own in the future but when that will be is undecided.
Agostini, Hogue, and Asif all stated that they would get another dog but of a different breed since getting one of the same breed would be too much of a comparison, while Bain and Allen said they wouldn’t mind getting another dog of the same breed. Agostini said that her family adopted a new dog of a different breed about a month after Miley’s passing, which helped fill the empty void in their family.
“What keeps the memory of your pet alive? Do you have anything physical to remember them by?”
For Christmas, my mom gave me artwork of a black cat, just like Princess. Since she lived in my room, seeing these paintings everyday keeps the energy of her still being there with me. And just like everyone else who loves their pet as much as I loved Princess, I have tons of videos and photos I can look back on to keep the good times alive. I also now wear a pendant necklace with her paw print on it and never take it off.
Everyone I interviewed also has objects to remember their beloved animals by; Bain has Tucker’s frisbees and Asif, Hogue, Agostini have their dog’s paw prints printed on stone and their collars. Allen was the only student to admit to not getting anything to remember Max by, which is something that she regrets.
“What is your favorite memory of your pet, and if you had one more day with them, what would you do for them?”
One of my favorite memories of Princess Kitty was one time about two years ago when I found her neck deep in a bag of Cheetos, and when I pulled her away, she had cheese dust all over her face. If I were to have one more day with Princess, I would give her all the cheese and milk she wants, I would let her lay on my stomach while we watched tv, and I would throw her favorite toys around and make sure she was having a good time.
Everyone said that they would let their dogs do their favorite dog things: roll around in dirt, throw a frisbee around, lay on the porch in the sun, go to the beach, get a puppuccino or ice cream, and the best out of all, hold them and give them as much love as they could.
Losing a pet that was close to you could be one of the hardest losses ever, and your grieving process or how to choose to remember your pet is completely up to you. If you feel unsure about your emotions, it never hurts to reach out and talk about it to people. It’s completely acceptable to take as much time as you need to in order to cope and keeping the memory of your pet alive is very helpful. You can get through anything, including this.
Thank you to the students who helped me put this article together. May all of our pets rest in paradise on the other side of the rainbow bridge. The bridge that led them to never ending peace after a life full of love and happy memories.