Remembering your forever friend after they're gone

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The loss of a pet is devastating. Just before Christmas, my office cat, Boots, passed away after more than seven months in hospice care with me. Although two months have passed and other shelter animals needing a quiet space have come and gone from my office, I still think about Boots daily and find myself looking for him when I arrive at work each morning. The unfortunate reality of having pets is that they do not live as long as we do. That doesn't mean we forget them, though. There are many ways to remember and honor your pet after they pass, and, in doing so, it can help you heal from the loss.

Talk about your pet

Immediately following the loss of a pet, talking about him or her can be incredibly difficult or, if you are as emotional as I am, downright impossible. Gradually, though, it helps to talk about your pet and share your memories with others. This is the easiest ways to keep the memory of your pet alive and it can help shift your focus to all the good times you had with your pet instead of being consumed by the sadness of his or her passing.

Get a keepsake urn or personalized grave marker

I've grown up marking the graves of my pets with trees or plants, but when my cat Raspberry passed away suddenly and very unexpectedly last spring, I wasn't ready to bury her and say goodbye. Instead, I had her cremated and purchased a special cherry wood urn that had a photo frame built into the front. I look at her special urn every day and it makes me feel better to know that, although she is gone, she is, in a way, still with me. Keepsake urns are especially nice if you live somewhere like an apartment complex where burying your pet in the back yard isn't really an option.

Turn toys and other items into keepsakes

When a pet passes, one of the hardest things to do is clean out their toys, bedding, leashes, and other belongings. There are some people who come to the shelter right away with their pet's items, looking to donate them as fast as possible instead of looking at them and being reminded of their loss. Then there are other people (like me!) and have a hard time letting go. Instead of erasing an animal from your house altogether, try using some of the items in a shadowbox along with photos of your pet. Even easier, hang your pet's collar on the side of a framed photo of him, or even attach his tags to your keychain. When my bearded dragon passed away earlier this month, I turned his tank background (which I had painted for him myself) into a piece of art for my wall. These simple art projects don't take much time or money (beyond a frame if you want one) but can definitely help you through the grieving process and give you a positive way to remember your pet each day.

Give a memorial brick or donation

Honor your pet's memory with a special gift or a memorial brick with his or her name. Many shelters and rescues have memorial gardens, as do some vet offices. Memorial donations not only help you remember your pet, they're gifts that also help other pets in need.

Volunteer at an animal shelter

Whether you've lost the dog that greeted you every day or the cat that snuggled on your lap, there's a definite emptiness after a pet passes. While some pet owners are ready to immediately fill that emptiness with another pet, others need more time to grieve and move on. A great way to help fill the emptiness without committing to a new pet is to volunteer for an animal shelter or rescue group. Many organizations also offer foster care opportunities, which is a chance for you to care for animals in your own home until they are ready for adoption.

Save another life

It may take you a few days, weeks, months, or even years before you feel ready to welcome another animal into your home. While no pet can replace another, opening your home to another animal when the time is right is a great way to honor all the good times you had with your first pet. Again, volunteering is a great place to start if you're looking to add a new animal but want to take your time finding the right match.

While these are just a few simple ideas, some people go further and have special memorial jewelry or paintings created. Nowadays, you can even get a stuffed animal likeness of your pet. In reality, the only limit to what you do in your pet's memory is your budget. The loss of a pet is always difficult, but making an effort to honor the memory of your pet in any way can help you through the grieving process.

Alaina Goodnough is the Promotions Coordinator at Cocheco Valley Humane Society in Dover, NH. She lives in Sanford, ME with two parrots, a cockatoo, a cat, and two dachshunds. She can be reached at CVHS at To learn more about Cocheco Valley Humane Society, go to or call 603-749-5322.

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