BY DR. TRACY ACOSTA
Few things in this life are more difficult than losing a beloved pet. It doesn't matter whether a pet has blessed you for just a few years or has been your companion for 12 or 14 years, or longer, it is a special bond that will forever remain in your heart. Unfortunately, I have now been in practice just long enough to witness the passing of some pets I welcomed as unforgettable puppies and kittens. Trust me, as a veterinarian I truly do grieve the loss of all of my patients, as I too know the pain and agony that comes with such a loss. As I remind all of my clients, I have pets too and have suffered the pain when a pet dies. The last few weeks have been especially tough for me as a veterinarian and the care provider for several special pets. Each one of these pets had absolutely been the cherished best friend to each of its families. None of these adored pets will ever be forgotten by me or their families. Each had its unique history of how it came into each family's life and also its share of comical antics when the pets were younger. It is those happy memories I hope each of these families remember about their dear pets. When a precious family pet dies it is perfectly normal to be sad and to cry, no matter who you are. Don't feel you need to hold back your tears, as you try to be the strong person through such a hard time, even if you are the parent. It is important that you are able to grieve in your own way. There is no wrong way or right way to do this, just as long as you allow for your true flow of emotions to develop and emerge as you deal with the loss. If you or another family member has an especially hard time with handling the loss of a pet, seek out help from support groups, clergy or other professionals. Whether your pet suffered a long illness or passed away suddenly, nothing ever prepares you for that emptiness that is now so real. I believe it is even more of an abrupt change in life if your pet was the only pet in the household. This is not to say losing a pet is not difficult when there are multiple pets in the household. However, at least there is still someone to greet you at the door when you come home after a long day, to help soften the blow. It is an important reality, though, in multiple-pet households, that the other pets may suffer a loss and often grieve sadly along with their human counterparts. For all of you pet owners who are dealing with the loss of a cherished pet companion, know you are not alone and the rest of the pet-loving world understands your sadness. The most important thing to remember is emotional pain and grief are natural and must be experienced before the healing can begin. My best advice is that once the initial stages of grieving have passed, try to celebrate what was so special about the good times you shared and remember the many ways in which you enriched each other's life. I truly wish I could spare pet owners the sadness of losing a beloved pet. Each one of these pets is irreplaceable, in so many ways. One of my good friends recently put it best, "Pets are blessings from God. We can learn a lot about life from them and a lot about God." I couldn't say it any better. May all of us treasure the blessed times we share with our special pet companions and never take a day for granted. This article is written in memory of all my special patients that over the years have made my job the toughest one ever... Chipper, Bacchus, Lucy, Herb, Chompers, Oreo, Mitzi, Victoria, Pharaoh, Gent, Elvis, Katie, Buddy... and the many others who always gave us their unconditional love.