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Traumatic death of a pet

by Kitty Walker, LMSW-ACP

Dear Kitty,

After having my cat for almost five years, I was horrified and greatly saddened to discover his body on the side of the road! The poor thing was not intact! He looked so bad. Apparently, he had been hit by a car, truck whatever! I loved him so much! He was like a child to me. He was so special, so sweet; he didn't deserve such a horrible death!

I am having a very hard time coping with his death. I find myself crying several times a day. He was a very, very special friend to me. I miss him so much! I have two other cats. I think they feel the loss too! Cats do go to heaven don't they? I never want to forget him.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can come to terms with his death? I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you!

Dear Friend:

I was deeply saddened by your recent letter. The death of a pet at any time, under any circumstances, is difficult enough for those of us with deep attachments to them. However, seeing your sweet one's disfigured body following a lethal hit on the road has to be one of the all-time terrible experiences.

One of the things you will unfortunately be coping with is the image of his body when you came upon it. Although it is a gruesome image, and not the way your cat looked in life, it is better if you don't try to fight it. Your mind, in an attempt to deal with the trauma, will go back to it repeatedly. So that this reliving of it is less traumatic for you, try to pair the image with the thought, "This is not (your cat's name), just his shell. His spirit had already left before he looked this way."

In writing your letter to me, you are helping yourself in the grieving process. I often recommend that people write a memorial tribute to the animal that has died, describing his or her personality, quirks, strong points, and what the relationship between human and pet was like. This can be something you do privately for yourself, or, if you wish, you can post a memorial here at Beyond Indigo.

In addition to writing a tribute, you can also make a special scrapbook. Going through photographs, while painful at first, can be a way of reminding you that he was a beautiful creature, full of life and spirit.

You asked, "cats do go to heaven don't they?"

Although I am not anywhere close to an ultimate authority on this, my belief is that heaven would not be heaven without our beloved creatures welcoming us to love and play with for all eternity.

I'll keep you in my heart,

Kitty


Ask Kitty is a psychotherapist specializing in grief and loss issues which humans encounter when their pets die. She has worked in this area for a number of years, providing counseling to people at this special time of need. She also provides consultation and education to employees of veterinary clinics in her area.