Having the made the incredibly hard decision to go ahead with pet euthanasia, your pet family friend will be hurting. Even if you do not fully understand the bond between person and pet, they certainly do – and they will feel as injured by their loss as they would at losing any member of their family.
This makes it really important not to say the wrong thing. Even well intentioned enquiries intended to keep your pet parent friend engaged and talking may have unintended negative implications.
So what should you say to the grieving pet family?
Things not to say to a grieving pet family
Never trivialise the relationship between your friend and their pet. Anything you might be thinking of saying which seeks to minimise the relationship in order to reduce the grief won’t work!
Some of the most typical unhelpful responses include:
“Well, they were getting on a bit/ were really sick anyway.”
“You could always get another pet?”
“He or she was only a pet!”
“You have other pets though, right?”
“Using any response with the pronoun “it””
“Oh but you always used to say how annoying they were…”
All of these are unlikely to make your friend feel better about euthanising a pet! Once again, just because you’re not a “cat person” or a “dog person”, your pet parent friend is and they might well think about animals in general – or their lost pet in particular – in a completely different way.
How to comfort a grieving pet friend after pet euthanasia
1) “Is there anything I can do?”
This simple, basic offer is often all that’s needed. Your pet parent friend will know that you’re there, know you care and everything else will naturally fall into place by letting them take the lead.
2) “I’m here if you want to talk”
Making the decision to euthanise a pet is only done after a lot of soul-searching, so being able to talk the decision through with someone who cares – even after the fact – can help the pet parent come to terms with the choice they made and the reasons why they made it.
3) Send a card, flowers or donate to an animal shelter in their honour
If you’re someone who really needs to “do” something to show how much you feel your friend’s loss, why not consider any of the usual things you’d do for a grieving friend? Send a condolence card, create a floral arrangement – or as one added extra, consider donating to a local animal shelter or other good pet-related cause in their sadly departed pet’s honour.
4) “You were the best friend/ pet parent they could have had”
The aftermath of the pet euthanasia decision can often lead to recriminations from the pet parent that they could have done something more to care for their pet. Reassuring them that you know how much and how well they cared for their pet can be a good step to take.
5) “I don’t know what to say”
Even admitting this can be the “right” thing to say. Many people aren’t good at dealing with someone who is dealing with grief, but if they’re your friend and they know you well they’ll be aware of this already.
Simply being there, admitting you don’t know what to say and providing a hug when it’s needed can be enough to get them through.
6) “I understand. I felt like this when it happened to my pet too.”
If you’ve already been forced to make the pet euthanasia decision yourself, you’re the perfect person to comfort your grieving pet parent friend. You’ll know exactly what they’re going through, and in many cases will be able to guess when it’s time to stay something supportive and when it might be time to be quiet and listen to them speak.
Alternatively, if you have another friend who’s gone through the same thing then you might consider arranging for them to meet up for a cup of tea or coffee for a sort of informal counselling session.
But when all’s said and done, simply being there for your friend is usually enough. Try to think about it in the same way you would about their losing any other family member, and you won’t go far wrong.