Recently, several dogs in our pet therapy group passed away. When a loss occurs, the group is notified by email with the family’s address, should we wish to send a sympathy card. Some of the dogs I knew very well, and I find it easy to personalize the card with a particular memory of the pet, but others I didn’t know as well, and I struggle to come up with the right words. But I know how meaningful it is to receive a condolence card when you lose a pet – it’s a validation of your grief and an expression that the pet’s life mattered. The challenge is what to say that doesn’t sound trite or generic. My friends at VetWisdomCafe, who are pet loss grief counselors and have also created a line of pet sympathy cards, have written a helpful post on this topic. To summarize their advice:
Make it personal. The recipient needs to know that you are writing specifically about their dog. For example, I might say something like, “Smudge brought joy to so many hospitalized children in his long career as a therapy dog. Part of his lasting legacy is the smiles of those children, and the comfort he brought to their parents.”
Don’t be afraid to be emotional. If possible, share a warm memory. “I remember how cute Smudge looked in his Halloween bumblebee costume, and how patient he was with the kids that day, even as he tried to get to the food table to counter-surf.” Recalling happier times can be a bridge through the most painful period of loss. If the dog died after a long illness, acknowledge the devoted care your friend gave. “Your selfless devotion to Smudge’s care has been an inspiration to all of us.”
Be thoughtful. Take time to write something from your heart that’s not the standard note. I sometimes include a copy of a poem that seems to speak to this particular loss. It’s okay if your card gets there a bit later than others; it will still be appreciated.
I keep a stock of pet sympathy cards on hand, as well as copies of favorite poems and tributes to enclose. I’ve also found it meaningful and appreciated to make a small donation in the pet’s memory to an organization for homeless animals, such as Grey Muzzle.
End the note with a thought such as, “Smudge touched many lives. I know you will miss him. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.”
Everyone wants to know that their pet’s life mattered. The simple gesture of acknowledging the pet’s passing and validating the feeling of loss can be a great source of comfort to someone who is grieving.