5 Lessons Learned about Grief, after losing a beloved pet

Crystal Villegas, M.S., LCPC

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

At some point in our lives, most of us will have the honor of being pet owners. Some of us bring pets into our lives for companionship, some as a steppingstone into parenthood, some as additions to the family, and some simply because they “chose us” as their pet parents. Everyone has a different reason for welcoming a pet into their home. And everyone’s experience of having a pet is different. However, as with all living things in life, every pet’s life comes to an end at some point.

I had the heartbreaking experience of losing my cat recently, whom I had had for 12 years. She came to me unexpectedly when I was just 21 years old. I didn’t know it at the time; but that cat would be my companion through all the life transitions I would be experiencing in my twenties. At times, she would be my only source of comfort. Dallas was the most beautiful Himalayan cat ever, both inside and out. She brought joy to my life that I could never describe in words.

So, when the veterinarian informed me that she was suffering from an illness that could not be treated, and that it would be best to put her down, I had no idea how to feel. Dallas passed away in my arms on April 7, 2024 and I was filled with an incredible mix of emotions. A part of me wanted to burst into tears, while the other part felt like I had to keep my emotions under control. I felt anger, sadness, guilt, shame, numbness, acceptance…..and then these emotions would circle back again in a different order, different intensity levels. What was most surprising to me, however, was how embarrassed I originally felt at vocalizing the fact that I was experiencing all these emotions. I dedicate my life to helping others and providing counseling. Yet, in my own time of need, I did not know how to allow myself the space to grieve a loss that was significant to me. “People have more important things going on in their lives” I kept telling myself.

I was shocked at how compassionate people were, and almost confused at the amount of support shown at my grief, which might sound surprising coming from someone who provides therapy to others. It was at that point that I realized how much we need to speak up about the impact that pets have in our lives, and more importantly, how devastating it can be to lose them. In my grief journey I have learned a lot; and here are some of the things I learned when it comes to pet grief.

• The first thing I will say is, BE OKAY with your grief. Pets are valuable members of our families, and they bring unconditional love to our lives. There is no need to shy away from the feelings we are experiencing, and no need to feel embarrassed.
• Secondly, take the time you need to grieve. Whether this means requesting a day off or cancelling those plans you originally agreed to, give yourself that time to grieve the loss of your beloved pet. You do not have to explain anything to anyone. And you do not have to minimize your feelings to anyone. Your grief is your own to understand and work through.
• Third, take your time deciding on the end-of-life care that makes most sense to you. I was astonished at the different options available for end-of-life care and felt overwhelmed trying to make the best decision. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to go about this decision. Listen to your heart and make the decision that feels right.
• Fourth, consider if there are any self-care activities you may want to engage in to help in your journey of grief. I personally found it helpful to take long walks so that I could think of the fond memories I had with Dallas. For you it might be something like putting together a scrapbook with your pet’s photos, calling a friend to talk about your grief, or volunteering at a local animal shelter. Make it make sense for YOU.
• Fifth, give yourself time. Grief is not a linear process. It takes time. Some days you will feel better than others.

Lastly, find a way to commemorate your beloved pet. Some find it helpful to spread their pet’s ashes in a special place, others find it helpful to get a tattoo in honor of their pet, while others make it a mission to help other pet owners with their grief.
Below I have listed a list of places to get grief support for pets. And as always, we are also here to support you at St. Charles Counseling whether it is grief or a host of other issues the present in life.


Pet Loss Support Center