What to Do When a Furry Family Member Dies Unexpectedly

It’s taken a long time to be able to write this post, vacillating between whether it was too personal, just too difficult to write, etc. But, in the end, I guess I’m just hoping that it maybe helps someone else who lost their furry family member while traveling or at home… Doesn’t really matter, it’s super painful no matter how you lose them. Here it goes…

We lost our buddy Hutch at the beginning of December. My husband and I got him when we were first married. He was with us through 3 moves, job changes, and two babies. And he handled it all with such grace. Ever the gentle giant, persistent in finding ways to play with dogs and children, and always there for us. Hopping in the car to drop the kids off at school, a day at the grandparents’ houses, a trip to the big lake, a weekend in the city… he was up for anything.

What to do When a Furry Family Member Dies

We were in Milwaukee when we received the call from the kennel that they were performing CPR and 15 minutes later again when he had passed away. The 6-hour car ride home felt like we would never get to the kennel and trying to explain death to two small children through choked tears felt especially cruel. Perhaps the cruelest of all was knowing that we had not been there for our buddy who had always been there for us.

Timeshares, WhatsApp, and a Renovation

While we still miss him daily and have yet to put away his dishes or wash his bedding, here are some things that have helped in the healing process:

Read this article from Chris Loves Julia.  I read it over and over and over. There were some differences in our situations but the heart of it was the same… we lost a much loved pet. Needing some direction, something to do, some action to take, this article helped immensely. (I have starred the ideas replicated below). 

What to do When a Furry Family Member Dies

*Acknowledge that this was a significant loss. This was a family member who was part of your everyday. They provided support, greetings, and snuggles, and they will be missed… a lot.

What to do When a Furry Family Member Dies

Share memories and stories. Say what a “cool dog” he was, share a story of when you first met him. Share how you could see how loved he was, how loved he knew he was, and how he loved his family. (This was especially helpful given that we were not able to be with Hutch to tell him these things).

What to do When a Pet Dies

*Drop off/Send flowers, edibles, a card, say a kind word when you see the family, tell them how sorry you are for their loss. This was a family member and all of these kind gestures are so appreciated.

What to do When a Pet Dies

Make a donation to a local rescue or animal shelter. We received a card with a donation to a local Boxer rescue in Hutch’s name. It feels good to know that another animal will receive some extra love in Hutch’s spirit.

What to do When a Pet Dies

Make a memory box, hang up photos, create a DVD, and/or design a photo book. Remembering the good times and reliving how much a part of the family Hutch was certainly helped. My sister-in-law brought over dinner and helped the kids hang up photos and make memory boxes, my husband and I made a DVD and photo book– it all was helpful in our healing.

What to do When a furry family member dies

*Buy the kids stuffed animals similar to your lost pet. I bought each of the kids a stuffed animal of Hutch. They carried them around for the first week and still sleep with them at night.

What to do When a furry friend dies

*Have a painting done. I love the idea of portraits of our pets. In fact, back in the day, I painted this one of my childhood dog, Sally.  It fit her perfectly as she loved lounging in her big fenced backyard… even better if the four of us joined her.

Painting of dog with kids

When I saw on the Chris Loves Julia blog that Victoria Bradley (on Etsy) did watercolors with people, I knew she was the person to paint Hutch and the children. Hutch hated not being with us. It was really the only thing he demanded from us– to be in the same room at all times. A portrait of him alone didn’t feel right, but a painting of him with his favorite little people (trying to kiss them as was almost always the case) was perfect.

What to do When a furry family member dies

Read The Invisible String with your children. It was a great reminder for all of us that we are never too far from those we love. We also read In My Heart with our kids. Sometimes it’s hard for children to name how they are feeling, so this book was a nice reminder.

What to do When a Furry Family Member Dies

Have your pet cremated. There was some sort of calm when we could finally pick up the ashes and bring Hutch home. The cremators even created a clay paw print that will stay with us should we decide to spread the ashes in Hutch’s favorite spots.

What to do When a furry family member dies

Plant something in your pet’s memory. We received these wildflower seeds in the shape of a heart from the kennel. I’m looking forward to planting them in Hutch’s backyard in the spring.

What to do When a Furry Family Member Dies

Talk to your pet’s vet. If you lost your pet unexpectedly or while you were away, go talk to the vet who knew him best, who you saw at least once a year, who knew how you loved your furry family member. I made an appointment with Hutch’s vet because it just didn’t feel right to hear about his passing from someone who didn’t even know him. It felt embarrassing at first and I almost cancelled, but after going, I know it was the right choice.

What to do When a Furry Family Member Dies

Don’t be afraid to believe in the spiritual world. Believe that all dogs go to Heaven. Believe that the crazy rustling wind and leaves that never turned their usual colors (but rather the fawn color of Hutch’s coat) are his spirit going for one last lap in the backyard. Believe that the Supermoon on the night of his death was his sign that he is a-okay. Believe it all.

Travel App, Slippers, Soup, and Games

Thank you for letting me share this- it was as helpful for me as I hope it may be for you.

8 thoughts on “What to Do When a Furry Family Member Dies Unexpectedly”

  1. Oh, no!!! I am so sorry for your loss, Marta! It is the hardest thing ever!!! I’ve lost several dogs and nothing can replace their kind and innocent soul. But it is a million times better to have a dog, even if it inevitably will mean dealing with the pain and maybe later a new puppy can help fill the home with joy again… I’m very sorry for your loss!

    1. Thanks so much, Eva! I completely agree- having Hutch and all of the joy that he brought us and taught us for 11 1/2 years was worth all of the pain now. I thought that I was going to be the tough one since I’ve lost a couple of dogs before, but I was just as sad as everyone else.

  2. what a beautiful post, Marta?! Thank you for sharing these memories and photos.. he will forever remain a member of your family… thank you too for teaching others how to help in grief. wrapping you in a big hug and thinking of Hutch. xoxo

  3. Very heart touching post! Hutch was such a beautiful soul! I can understand how painful it must have been for you. Pets are our family members and getting over their death is not easy. Thanks for sharing ways to help others deal with this misfortune.

  4. Awwwwwnwnnnnn. See me with tears. Hutch must be really loved by you guys. I’ve not had the mind to keep a pet simply because it’ll be hard to let go. Just like now. But for anyone keeping pets and unforseen incidents happen? Then this is sure the perfect therapy they need. Thanks for sharing this.

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