How to Support a Co-Worker Whose Pet Has Just Died

Updated on May 8, 2018
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Sally believes pets are important members of the family. Empathy in the workplace can ease feelings of grief after a co-worker's pet dies.

Helping a Friend Through the Loss of Their Pet

You've just found out that your co-worker's pet has died and you want to offer them support. You know how painful pet loss can be. Here are some tips on how to help them cope with the death of their beloved cat, dog, bird, or even goldfish.

Someone's attachment to a pet and the level of grief they feel when it dies shouldn't be measured by the size of the creature. The first step in supporting your co-worker is by acknowledging their feelings and by validating their sadness.

Have you noticed that your co-worker seems a little sad?
Have you noticed that your co-worker seems a little sad?

I remember the day I walked into work after my cat had passed away. I was in a fog and I couldn't focus on things as simple as writing out a to-do list. Minor inconveniences like a jammed printer or an empty coffee pot in the staff room felt like insurmountable hurdles and I just wanted to go home and cry. Finally, a co-worker sensed that I was upset and distracted and gently asked me what was going on. I broke down in tears and told her what had happened to my cat. I felt so relieved when she said she understood how painful my loss was and that she was there to help me get through the days ahead.

I'm so grateful for my co-worker's support that day—I've never forgotten it. Here are just a few of the things she did to support me along with things that I have since done to help others get through their own pain of pet loss.

Send Them a Pet Loss Sympathy Card

Almost all greeting card companies offer sympathy cards for the loss of a loved one. The words found within them are usually general but always heartfelt. These cards don't necessarily specify who the lost loved one is which means that the sympathy sentiments expressed could also be appropriate for the loss of a pet. Because of the greater awareness of how much pets mean to their human guardians, most major greeting card brands now have a few sympathy cards for the passing of an animal companion.

Even if you can't find a card specifically about pet loss, a blank card with flowers or animals on it can be filled with personalized words of sympathy and understanding.
Even if you can't find a card specifically about pet loss, a blank card with flowers or animals on it can be filled with personalized words of sympathy and understanding. | Source

Give to an Animal Charity in Your Co-Worker's Name

Acknowledging your co-worker's love for all creatures great and small by giving to an animal charity in her and her pet's names is a thoughtful way to let her know you support her.
Acknowledging your co-worker's love for all creatures great and small by giving to an animal charity in her and her pet's names is a thoughtful way to let her know you support her.

Share Resources on Pet Bereavement

If you think your co-worker could benefit from some additional support as they deal with the loss of their furry friend, consider looking into pet bereavement resources. You could find out if there is there a support group meeting nearby that they could attend.

The Rainbow Bridge is an online community that gathers on Monday evenings for a pet loss candle lighting ceremony. (This was the first site about pet loss that I found after my cat died. She passed away on a Sunday and having the Monday night candle ceremony the next day was a tremendous source of comfort for me.)

One of my favorite books on pet bereavement is Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz. I read it cover to cover in the weeks after my cat passed away and I have lent my copy many times since then to friends, family members and co-workers dealing with a pet death in their family.

Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die
Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die

This book is my go-to recommendation for anyone dealing with the death of a pet. It helped me at a difficult time in my life when I was grief stricken over the loss of my cat. Katz's sensitive words on dealing with feelings of guilt when we have to let go of our pets made me understand that loving our pets and wanting the very best for them means one day we may have to make difficult decisions to gently end our beloved pet's pain.

 

Help Ease Their Workload

See if you can help your co-worker take a little bit of a longer lunch break by covering them for 20 minutes or so. This might be just enough time for them to take care of some of the details related to the loss of their pet. Perhaps they need to call a pet crematorium. Perhaps they'd like to call a few of people in a support network to help with the grief. Or maybe they'd just appreciate a bit of extra time to go for a calming walk or spend some quiet time on a park bench close to the office.

Be Supportive in Front of Other Co-Workers

Sometimes other staff members don't understand what it feels like to lose a pet. Being supportive of your co-worker in front of others can help her feel less isolated and misunderstood.
Sometimes other staff members don't understand what it feels like to lose a pet. Being supportive of your co-worker in front of others can help her feel less isolated and misunderstood.

Acknowledge the Other Family Members Who May Be Grieving Too

If your co-worker has children, in addition to coping with their own sadness and grief, they will also be supporting their children through their feelings of loss. Simply acknowledging their children and saying how hard this must be for them lets your coworker know that you understand the weight on their shoulders at this difficult time.

Your co-worker could be dealing with the loss of a family pet while also dealing with grief compounded by concern for her children''s well-being.
Your co-worker could be dealing with the loss of a family pet while also dealing with grief compounded by concern for her children''s well-being.

Offer to Be There for Them After Work If They Need Support

Your co-worker may have trouble leaving at the end of the day because it means going back to an empty home. The days after my cat died were very hard each time I came in the door and she wasn't curled up in her favorite spot on the sofa.
Your co-worker may have trouble leaving at the end of the day because it means going back to an empty home. The days after my cat died were very hard each time I came in the door and she wasn't curled up in her favorite spot on the sofa.

Do you think employees should be able to ask for a sick day for pet bereavement?

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Until one has loved an animal a part of one's soul remains unawakened.

— Anatole France

I'll admit that this video about the Rainbow Bridge makes me cry almost every time I see it, but it's a good, healthy cry that helps me get in touch with my feelings of loss. I hope it can be of comfort to anyone you know who is missing a beloved cat or dog.

© 2018 Sally Hayes

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