Recently, my friend Stewart lost his pet dog named Charlie after a long battle with cancer. My buddy adopted his fur-baby from the humane society around 10-years ago and the two were extremely close. Wherever Stewart was – Charlie was not far behind. Part of this was because Stewart is legally blind. I’ve never seen such an empathic relationship – ever.
In any event, when I caught word about Charlie’s passing, I made it a point to call my bud and offer condolences. I knew from having lost my own pets over the years how terribly painful the experience can be. As Stewart and I got to chatting about the events surrounding the loss, he shared with me some of the remarks people were making on Facebook to show “support”.
As he kept talking, I signed into the social media site to check out his page. To my horror, I noticed a bunch of really stupid and insensitive posts that were frankly unhelpful and completely ignorant. While I realize sometimes people say stuff with the best of intentions, common sense suggests there are just some things that shouldn’t come out of a person’s mouth (or be typed into a smart-phone).
What follows are 5 specific things that you should NEVER say to someone who has lost a dog, cat or other pet. I’m sticking to canines here because I’ve written about them before and it just makes sense for this post.
OK. Here we go:
1) “When will you be getting a new dog?”
This one tops the list of asinine remarks because it happens to be the one people blurt out the most and it’s just freaking wrong. If you are saying this, here is a newsflash – a dog can’t be replaced like a light bulb. If you have said this to someone after their dog passed and thought you were being supportive, you weren’t.
2) “At least you still have your other dog”
Um – did you really just say that? While I recognize pets are not exactly the same as children, there are very real comparisons to be made. Would you tell someone who lost their baby, “Hey, at least you still have your 2-year old?” Think about this one for a second and it will soon be dawn on you that your words are so not helpful. Really, they aren’t.
3) “It’s only a dog – you’ll get over it”
People actually say this sometimes. I know that sounds cray-cray but I’ve heard people actually say this crap (believe it or not). If you are guilty of doing this – you really should apologize to the dog owner you made that remark to. That is of course if the person will still talk to you.
4) “He’s better off now”
There is some truth to an animal no longer having to suffer because of an illness but still, please don’t say junk like this to someone that just lost their dog. While the pet may be in a better place – the owner is not. In fact, they are probably feeling pretty crummy right now. You are far better off just saying something supportive like, “I can’t imagine how you are feeling right now.”
5) “You had him a long time – be thankful”
Yes, that dog may have outlived his years but the grieving pet owner doesn’t need you to rub their nose in it. Remember – they just lost someone significant and special in their life. Now is not the time to get all “gratitude” on them or impart wisdom. Instead, try to offer words of comfort with something like, “I know (fill in name of dog) meant a lot to you. I am here if you need anything.”
Many people who have pets consider them a part of their family. When that animal dies, it can be devastating. It is not uncommon for pet owners to seek out grief counseling as they travel through the five stages of grief. Be sensitive and have a heart when you learn about the loss. If you are not sure what to say, just tell your bud – “I’m really sorry.”
Feel free to add to this list if you would like. I know I have missed some here but wanted to mention the “biggies”.
PS: It’s OK to talk about what you went through if you lost a dog but don’t be a narcissist and make it all about you. Let that friend of yours have a moment to grieve and process what they are feeling.