Grieving a Pet


There’s no manual for this emotional journey. Here’s how two pet owners coped.

By Renee Berg

The week she graduated from college, Rochester native Sarah Shonyo Boilson went to Paws & Claws Humane Society to adopt a dog. She arrived to meet one dog but left with another: Lady.

A then 4-year-old mixed breed, Lady had been at the humane society for several months. That day, she went home with Boilson, and the two were constant companions for 12 years—as Boilson went from college student to employee, from single to married, from childless to mother of one.

On March 30, 2017—Boilson remembers exactly—Lady passed away at home from a presumed stroke. 

That night, Lady had gone Cheerio surfing on the kitchen floor before retiring to her bed. And there she passed away about 15 minutes later. 

“It was quick and peaceful, which I’m incredibly grateful for,” Boilson says. “My husband Barry brought her body to the local emergency vet, where she was cremated.”

Boilson, back at home, sat on the couch and stared at the wall. She remained there, numb, until Barry returned. 

“I wasn’t ready. I mean, I knew at 16 years old that her time was limited, but I didn’t think it would happen so suddenly. In retrospect, she saved me a lot of heartache that comes with having to decide if and when to euthanize a pet. For that I’m grateful.”

Approaching Grief

Dr. Susan Meier of White Pines Pet Hospice says the human-animal bond “can be just as strong as that of a loved one.”

She recommends those who have lost a pet seek out in others what they need at the time, such as compassion and understanding. “Everyone is different and their bonds to their pets are different,” she says.

Anne Scherer of Rochester lost her cat Zoe in January 2017. Her Northern Valley Animal Hospital veterinarian was present when Zoe died and checked in on Anne and Zoe by phone. 

Since Scherer lives alone, she had come to regard Zoe as her main companion. “She snuggled with me on the couch when I read.”

Scherer found her vet’s presence comforting. Friends, family members and a neighbor also soothed her grief. 

Since the loss of Zoe, Scherer decided she needed a new sidekick and found it in Rumi, another cat. Whereas Zoe was spry and prone to serenades of meows, Rumi is a “mellow fellow,” Scherer says, very loving and a big fan of being groomed. 

Scherer copes with the loss of Zoe with Rumi. “I can’t imagine there not being another animal with me. I can’t imagine not caring for and sharing my life with another cat.”

Sweater Smiles

Meanwhile, Boilson enjoys reflecting on Lady’s predilections, such as Lady’s raging love for wearing sweaters. 

“When she caught sight of one, she’d run around in circles and jump on me til I put it on her. As soon as the weather started turning cold, we’d bust out the sweaters and she’d live in them all winter. Her collection is far more extensive than mine.”

In addition, there was a lot of couch time together. “I miss her quiet companionship.”

Boilson is thankful that her family and friends were so supportive of her during her grieving process. “Lady was my sidekick for 12 years,” she says. “Their actions really helped validate the deep sense of loss I felt.”

What’s helped her through the grieving process? The age-old tool of time, Boilson says. And cross stitching, a hobby she picked up the day after Lady’s death to keep her mind occupied.

With a toddler on her hip and a new baby born last spring, Boilson and her husband have opted not to get a new pet. They’re concentrating their efforts on “our human children for now,” Boilson says, but quickly adds, “I’d love to adopt another dog when the time is right.” 

Renee Berg is a local writer and the owner of two grey sister cats, Frankie and Hazel.