Dying matters are those important decisions that we are faced with making, often at the very time when we are least able to cope with it. Losing your best friend is the one thing that no pet owner ever wants to think about, not even for a second, let alone talk about or even perhaps make decisions. It’s just too painful, it won’t happen to my cat, or puppy, it just won’t, I mean it can’t can it, my pet means the world to me and I can’t ever imagine my life without them.
Sound familiar? Have you caught yourself thinking these things? I know I have. The reality is though, it can happen to me, you, to any pet owner. Taking some time to think about dying matters and your wishes for your furbaby in advance is very important.
It all happened so fast…
Through my role at Cheeky Little Prints helping pet owners keep a part of their pet with them forever, I sadly hear from lots of pet owners who have unexpectedly lost their pet in all sorts of different circumstances from a kitten born with a fatal disease to a puppy who got excited and ran into a road and devastatingly got hit by a car and didn’t make it. I too have experienced my own sudden loss, it hurts so much, I was just numb, empty and completely numb. I regularly help pet parents with all sorts of dying matters from choosing the best keepsakes to remember their precious pets to giving some tips on how to talk to children about pet loss.
Here one minute, gone the next…
Our beautiful tabby cat Tiger was a healthy 4 and a half year old cat who loved life, she loved to wander in nearby gardens and was timid around cars so we were never worried about her being run over as she used to disappear very quickly at the sound of a vehicle engine. On 9th April 2019 Tiger was seen wandering around outside, sunbathing and chillaxing like cats do. My dad was at our house and he went to leave at around 4pm. Nothing could prepare him for what he saw, our beautiful cat led outside, very still, too still, with very obvious injuries :'( Tiger had been run over and was not breathing.
My dad called me but I didn’t pick up as I was in the shower at his house. So he called my mum who was then banging on the bathroom door telling me I had to go home, something had happened to Tiger, that’s all she knew. I threw on some clothes without even really drying first and I ran down the road (we live on the same street) as fast as I could, having no idea what I would find. I first saw my dad collapsed in a heap on my front step, tears rolling down his face and then I saw my beautiful Tiger :'(
I remember tears literally falling out of my eyes, I didn’t even cry them, they just fell out of my eyes uncontrollably. I tried to see if Tiger was breathing and feel for a heart beat, but there was nothing, I had to face up to the fact she had died. I was in shock, how on earth could this happen, we saw her an hour before trotting around outside as normal, absolutely no sign of being poorly at all.
What do I do now?
I sat with Tiger for a while, very gently stroking her fur and it suddenly hit me, what on earth am I going to tell my children. To make matters even more traumatic, we had lost my grandad 2 weeks to the day earlier so the family were already grieving. There were all these dying matters I had to begin making decisions about when I was not in any kind of state to make decisions. My dad asked if I wanted him to drive me to the vets, which I agreed to but first I had to tell the boys what had happened.
We wrapped Tiger in a nice towel and I carefully carried her in my arms to my parents house so the boys could say goodbye. I had to cover her as it would have been even more distressing for the boys to have seen Tiger’s injuries (I can still see her now, I don’t think those images will ever leave me). Through many many tears, they said goodbye and we took her to our local Veterinary Hospital.
Drove Vets were amazing, I arrived in their busy reception in a total state holding a very still Tiger wrapped carefully in a towel, a receptionist spotted me straight away and compassionately guided me into a quiet room. A vet nurse came and took Tiger to get checked by a vet in case they could save her, I knew they couldn’t. I used to be a vet nurse and had already checked but they checked anyway. The vet told me there were no scuff marks on her nails, a classic sign seen in cats that are involved in RTAs. The vet suggested it was very possible Tiger was poorly and had laid under the vehicle and had already passed away before being run over :'(
It just didn’t make sense…
Nothing made sense, Tiger was happy and healthy, not a single sign of any illness or injury, we always took her to the vet if we noticed anything out of the ordinary and for her regular check ups. I just felt so empty and numb. We sat with Tiger for a while in their quiet room.
Dying matters – so many decisions…
My dad gently asked me if I wanted to have Tiger cremated. The thought had never ever crossed my mind, what would I do if (realistically when) Tiger died. I hadn’t given any consideration to any dying matters and the decisions I was now faced with. I honestly, hand on heart thought we had another 12 – 15 years with her. There was no need to even think about these things, but suddenly, I did need to make these awful decisions.
Tiger was the first pet I had had where I was the responsible pet owner. My previous pets were owned by my parents, so they were the ones tasked with deciding what to do in this situation. Whilst I had worked as a vet nurse many years ago, I had no personal experience to call on. I decided that I would have Tiger cremated, even though I have always hated the idea of it. I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to dig a grave for Tiger in our garden and I had to think about the boys. Then it hit me, how on earth would I explain cremation to my children, this was all getting a bit too much to deal with but I had no choice, I had to do my best to make the best decisions I could even though I was in no fit state to make any decision on anything.
I opted for an individual cremation so we could have Tiger’s ashes. I decided to have a scatter tube so that in time I could create some jewellery with Tigers ashes and I thought that if I wanted to lay her to rest in an urn later I could decide that later. I also asked for the vet nurse to shave a little bit of her fur for us to keep as she had the most beautiful tabby coat you’ll ever see.
I already had Tiger’s paw print, we captured it when she was a kitten and I had worn a silver charm showcasing her paw print on my bangle every day since. My silver paw print charm had just become immensely more valuable and treasured than ever before. Thinking about the types of keepsakes you might like is a very important part of dying matters and being prepared. If you have a plan then it makes things easier at the time for example you know you’d like a paw print captured or some fur etc.
Collecting Tiger’s ashes…
A little while later, a week to 10 days maybe, I had a call from the vets to say I could collect Tiger’s ashes. I had never done this before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I purposely didn’t tell my children her ashes were ready as I knew they would want to see them and I was not sure how much I could handle. I needed more time to face that and their emotions and questions and also be able to support them. I sat in the car park for a few minutes to compose myself and then I went in. I settled the account and then the kind lady carefully handed me a neat box with Tiger’s name on the side and an envelope and dried flowers on the top. I said thank you and slowly, but at the same time quickly walked out to the car park. Slowly as I needed to be careful carrying my furbaby, but quickly as I knew I was about to burst into tears.
I got back to the car and the tears fell out of my eyes and I cried. I cried for several minutes before deciding if I could open up the envelope. I opened it to find a beautiful card and Tiger’s paw print they had captured for us as a keepsake. I then saw her fur they had shaved for me and I just buried my head and whaled :'( I wasn’t sure whether to open the box. I didn’t know what I would find. The box was certainly a lot lighter than I expected, yet I had no idea what to expect. I peered into the box and moved the tissue paper to reveal her scatter tube but that’s as far as I got. It was another week or more before I was brave enough to tell the boys I had collected Tiger’s ashes and I showed them.
Collecting your pet’s ashes is a very personal thing. When you are thinking about dying matter and your wishes, give some thought to whether you are best to collect your pet’s ashes alone or would you prefer a family member or friend go with you for support.
Dying matters and your wishes…
There really is a lot to think about when it comes to dying matters and I can fully appreciate pet owners not wanting to think about it ever, let alone now but we do need to be aware that we will need to make decisions, important decisions at the most heart breaking of times when we are really in no fit state to make those decisions. Therefore, some prior thought regarding dying matters and your wishes is wise, albeit difficult to do.
I hope by sharing my story it helps you at least begin to think, what would I do in that situation?
I often encourage pet owners to capture their pet’s paw print with one of our inkless paw print kits. I encourage pet owners to do that now, rather than wait, we never know what is around the corner. I very often get pet owners order kits and then call or message to say they need the kit asap, how quickly can I get it to them as their pet is seriously poorly and they don’t know how long they have left :'( Please don’t wait until then to capture your pet’s paw print, do it now, under happier circumstances and you always have their paw print keep forever. Pet paw print kits are just £7.75 so very affordable and when you send us a photo of your pet’s paw prints we tidy up any extra furry bits and send you a clearer paw print to keep forever. You also get a discount code to use on future orders.
There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to dying mattes, every pet and pet owner is individual, you need to do what is right for you and your furfamily.
If you have any questions about anything in this blog, please get in touch and I will be happy to help you. Dying matters need to be talked about more and if I can help you with that then I am more than happy to. For those pet parents who have read this and are thinking they should give some thought to dying matters and their wishes for their furfamily, I can recommend a great book called The Grief Recovery Handbook For Pet Loss, which I found very helpful. I also know a lovely Grief Recovery Specialist so if you would like some help to cope, please get in touch and I will pass on Debi’s details for you.
Originally published 12th May 2020.