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No matter how long your beloved dog or cat has been in your life, it never feels long enough when the time comes to say goodbye. The heartbreak of losing a family member cannot be denied, but there are ways to honor your pet’s legacy with dignity and love and help soften your grief at the same time.

Grief is what we call the emotional reactions and psychological changes we go through after a loss. Legacy is what is left of your pet after he or she dies – in your heart and on this earth. The ways in which we grieve vary widely from person to person and there are limitless ways to honor and share the lasting impact your pet had in your life. I will share a few of them with you here, but consider this article a jumping-off point to find what works for you and your family.

Written by: Dr. Lauren Barrow, Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice Veterinarian

My Heart Dog, Holly

I think of my own heart dog, Holly, a scruffy little terrier mix I rescued my sophomore year of high school, and how she carried me through college, was a flower girl at my wedding and helped raise two of my children. When she died I was devastated, and I remember wondering how I’d possibly spend the rest of my life without her.

Many years have passed since the day I lost her, but in a way, she’s still with me. Not only do I have physical reminders of her – a locket with her hair in it, a clay paw print that goes on the Christmas tree each year, and photos all through the early albums of my family – but traditions, too. Every year on her birthday we make a small donation to the local animal shelter. When one of my current dogs has a birthday party, we set out an extra cookie for Holly. My husband and children still sing the silly song they made up with her name in it. She’s gone, but not forgotten, and it makes me smile to know her legacy lives on.

The Importance of Honoring Your Pet’s Legacy

Most mental health experts believe that finding ways to honor loved ones who have passed is an important part of an often very complicated grieving process. Grieving to some degree is important for many reasons, including preserving the memory of the one you lost, helping you heal, helping you move forward and gain closure, and helping you process feelings such as anger, sadness, resentment, and guilt. You may have different people tell you how to grieve the “right” way, but everyone’s path is different. It’s important to be patient with yourself and find your own direction.

Ways to Honor Your Pet’s Legacy

Here are a few ways to honor your pet’s legacy, to get you started.

Physical Keepsakes:

  • Pawprints (clay or ink), locks of hair, collars, or favorite toys. I’ve seen beautiful bracelets made out of collars and dog tags.

Jewelry:

  • Necklaces, rings, bracelets, and key chains engraved with photos, created with cremains, lockets of hair, or other reminders.

Tattoos:

  • Tattoos of your pet’s likeness, paw print, poetry, or other reminders.

Custom Items:

  • Pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals made with your pet’s photo and likeness. Make a Build-A-Bear with the sound of her barking or snoring.

Photos and Videos:

  • Albums, websites, social media pages, playlists, and slideshows. You can even have a custom song made.

Memorial Services:

  • Have a memorial service, and make it as simple or elaborate as you want. Include family and friends, a burial or scattering of ashes, speakers and eulogies, full catering, and music. Or just have it be yourself and your memories in a special place where you can tell her what she meant to you.

Outdoor Memorials:

  • Engraved garden stones, wind chimes, garden art, and flower gardens.

Dedicated Shrines:

  • Make a dedicated shrine to your pet somewhere in your home, with photos and keepsakes you had made.

Celebrations:

  • Celebrate her birthday or important anniversaries each year with friends, treats, singing, or whatever traditions you had together. Go to her favorite park, play her favorite game, or play her slideshow for all to remember her.

Charitable Donations:

  • Find a worthwhile charity, such as your local animal shelter, and make a donation in her name. If you can afford it, do that every year.

Special Places:

  • Designate a special place where you love to go together or where you can bury her, spread her ashes, plant a tree, or place some other kind of marker, and go there on special occasions or when you need to talk.

Final Thoughts

While searching, I found some very creative products out there including taxidermy and toys made of real fur, cloning services, and even fireworks and bullets made with cremains, so if you can dream it, it may be out there!

These are a few of the ways people have found to honor and remember their loved ones, but a quick search on the internet will turn up many more. Let your mind and heart wander to all possibilities. Remember, though you will feel the pain of your pet’s loss now and for many days to come, as long as she is remembered and in your heart, she will be with you still.

 


Sources:

  1. Friedman, M. (2021) Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve, Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brick-brick/202105/don-t-let-anyone-tell-you-how-grieve (Accessed: 05 June 2024).

  2. Vasquez, A. (2022) Why is grieving important? 10 reasons explained: Cake blog, Cake. Available at: https://www.joincake.com/blog/why-is-grieving-important/ (Accessed: 05 June 2024).

Written by: Dr. Lauren Barrow, Caring Pathways Veterinarian in Virginia Beach

A Colorado native, Dr. Lauren Barrow graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in Equine Science in 2002. She spent the next few years starting a family and working as a veterinary assistant before returning to Colorado State University where she earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2012. After a short stint in mixed animal medicine, Dr. Lauren found a home at Parkside Animal Health Center, in Aurora, Colorado, where she worked in companion animal general practice for nearly ten years.
In 2023, Dr. Lauren and her family moved to Virginia Beach to be near the ocean. She worked in the area as a general practice relief veterinarian for a few months until joining the Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice team. Dr. Lauren is honored and thankful to be invited into people’s homes to help care for their family members in their last days, and, when the moment comes, to help their loved ones pass peacefully and with dignity.
Mavi Graves
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