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The Importance of Pet Remembrance Day: Reflecting on the Enduring Bonds We Share with Our Pets

In the run up to national Pet Remembrance Day on 5th July, MARIE CARTER-ROBB, the founder of this national day of remembrance (and editor of Pets Magazine), writes on why there was a real need for a day on which to celebrate the lives of our precious departed pets.

This year’s national Pet Remembrance Day is once again particularly poignant for me. Last April, I said a very tearful goodbye to my darling Sophie, a true dog in a million. Then, in November last year, her ‘partner in crime’, my loving Nell, very sadly joined her.

Sophie had celebrated her 14th birthday last February, but many people mistook her for a much younger dog. She loved running around, playing with her favourite toy, Mr Tiger, and she was also filled with her own unique quirks, such as preferring natural water over tap and sneezing for attention. She was the sweetest and most gentle soul I have ever had the privilege to know. Sophie is a huge loss who will always hold a special place in my heart.

Sadly, 2022 was to prove a year of heartache for me. Loving Nell also passed over the Rainbow Bridge aged 16 and a half. Nell had a tragic first decade, being used for breeding on a puppy farm in Ireland. We found each other at a Dogs Trust event in July 2016. She was reserved by another couple, but I put my name down in case her home fell through. It did; thankfully for me!

Nell, then aged 10, had puppy soft paws, as she’d never been walked. Over the six years I knew and loved her, Nell, blossomed, giving so much love. She loved cottage holidays, doggy cake and treats, cuddles, and car rides. However, like Sophie, Nell suffered from worsening Mitral Valve Disease (MVD), a condition common among Cavaliers.  Nell was very sadly pts after months of worsening health due to MVD at 16 and a half years old.

There is not a day goes by that I do not think of and miss my two beautiful girls.

Pet bereavement is both real and very raw and manifests as an overwhelming sense of loss felt by anyone who has truly loved a pet. By loving them like family, we are allowing ourselves to be subjected to heartache when they inevitably slip this mortal coil.

The sad fact however is that other people may fail to understand the gravity of the loss. Employers, friends, and even other family members may react as if the death means little and that the individual should just ‘pull themselves together’. Thankfully, I have generally had a positive experience with other people being sympathetic.

We know from the start that our pets’ lives are transient. Poignantly, Rudyard Kipling asks plaintively in his poem ‘The Power of the Dog’:

‘Why in — Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?’

Kipling’s answer is a simple and pure:

‘Buy a pup and your money will buy; Love unflinching that cannot lie’.

Dogs are also known to develop the kind of attachment that can be described as love. When they see their beloved person, scientists have proven that the ‘cuddle’ chemical oxytocin is produced in their brains.

History is full of close bonds between people and pets. If we look for one moment at bereavement from a pet’s eye view, there are countless stories of dogs demonstrating overwhelming grief upon the death of their master. Perhaps the most well-known is that of the Greyfriars Bobby, a tale of a terrier who, it is claimed, spent 14 years in mourning at his master’s graveside.

Another poignant story is that of Hachikō, an Akita dog who for nine years after his master’s sudden death returned to the same place at a train station where he used to meet him after work, until his own death in 1935. Spot is another canine who waits in a place where she used to meet her owner Wayne Giroux before he was killed by a drink driver in 2010. Giroux’s son, Paul, checks in on Spot twice a day while she stands guard at her post, but he said he knows it’s never him she wants to see. Paul told US news channel KSLA 12 “If you can ever find anything that loves you that much, it’s the most precious gift in the world.”

When a living creature with the capacity for love brings so much joy into our lives, isn’t it a crime — that only the most hard-hearted would ascribe to — that we should not also remember and celebrate their lives?

That is why Pets Magazine launched national Pet Remembrance Day in the UK back in 2015. We felt there was a need for this special memorial day for pets to allow grief, and remembrance, to come into the open.

Supporters of national Pet Remembrance Day include TV vet Emma Milne.

Emma explains: “As a vet and a pet owner, I have experienced the devastation of pet loss from every angle. One of the hardest things for any vet is helping owners through the most difficult times of their lives but it is also our most important job. Having had to make the decision to end my own pets’ lives as well as those of my clients’ pets I completely understand the incredible sense of guilt and the mix of other emotions we all go through.

“For me, like everyone else, animals are part of the family. My ‘boys’, Pan and Badger, were with me for 15 years through thick and thin and their loss utterly crushed me.

“Events like Pet Remembrance Day are hugely important to bring people together through shared anguish and unite them to help them remember the great times with their pets rather than just the final moments.”

Best-selling author and speaker Wendy Van de Poll, MS, CEOL (Certified End of Life and Pet Loss Grief Coach and Founder of Centre for Pet Loss Grief, LLC) said: “Pet Remembrance Day is a time for outwardly expressing your deepest love for your pets that have reached the end of their lives. The feelings of pet loss grief are deep within your soul and often you may not give yourself permission to express your emotions of grief.

“Outwardly mourning is a way of saying good-bye in a very healthy way by celebrating the life of your beloved companions.

“Paying tribute to those animals that touched your heart with a pet funeral, memorial, and/or remembrance will help you heal your loss all the while keeping the love of your companion close by.”

On 5th July, I will be joining thousands, of other bereaved pet owners who will be remembering their beloved departed companion animals.

Please put Pet Remembrance Day in your diary this year.

How you can take part in Pet Remembrance Day:

Here are ways you can remember deceased pets on National Pet Remembrance Day, including:

  • A memorial service in a place where the pet liked to walk or play.
  • A memento mori such as a sculpture of the pet or memorial heart (pictured of Sophie later in this article)
  • A living memorial by planting a tree or
  • A pet portrait featuring the pet, or their image printed on a coaster or other accessory (pictured here of Nell by artist Astrid Brisson.)
  • A scrapbook, blog, or social media channel, with photos and other reminders of the pet.
  • A poem about the pet
  • Give to animal charities or The Oldies Club and help to support an older dog.

Grief Support

Here are few useful things that will help you in times of grief:

The wonderful Blue Cross has a dedicated phone line and web chat in addition to email services and online support to anyone seeking advice and guidance or just a friendly (virtual) shoulder to cry on when experiencing the depths of grief. I personally can attest to the Blue Cross being extremely helpful when I phoned for advice and support. For more information, please visit: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-and-pet-loss

The PDSA also has advice on coping with pet loss at: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/looking-after-your-pet/all-pets/how-to-cope-with-the-loss-of-a-pet

The ‘Pet Loss Guide’ by Millie Jacobs is a book that will help those experiencing the pain of pet loss.

Author Millie Jacobs uses her own personal experience and grief counselling expertise to guide readers through 31 days of exercises and support to help process your loss. Available from Amazon.

The Memorial Heart

If you’re looking for something truly special to remember your beloved pet, there’s a beautiful hand-painted memorial heart by Devon-based Lynda Bowler. Pictured is the memorial heart Lynda produced of Pets Mag’s beautiful Sophie.

More info: https://devonartistnetwork.co.uk/members/member/lynda-bowler.

The pain of pet bereavement is profound, but with understanding and support, healing is possible. Try to acknowledge and honour the significance of your pet’s place in your life and allow yourself to grieve fully. Seek support from others who understand the unique bond between humans and their pets. Remember that healing is a personal journey and take the time you need to find ways to move forward while treasuring the memory of your beloved pet.