During high kitten season, in the spring and summer, it’s not unusual to discover a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned by the mother. You want to help, right? You want to “rescue” them by taking them to the local shelter right? Before jumping to the rescue, or scooping them up and heading to the local shelter consider these recommendations.
First: Wait & Watch
You might have come across the kittens while their mother is off searching for food, or is in the process of moving them to a different location. Try to determine if the mother is coming back for them, or if they are truly orphaned.
To do this, stand far away from the kittens — 35 feet or more. If you stand too close, the mom will not approach her kittens. You might need to go away completely before the mother cat will return to attend to the kittens. It might be several hours before the mother cat returns — until she no longer senses the presence of humans hovering near her litter.
If you need to leave before the mother cat comes back, carefully evaluate whether the kittens are in immediate danger: Is it raining or snowing? Are dogs or wild animals that might harm the kittens running loose in the neighborhood? Does the neighborhood have kids or adults who are likely to harm the kittens? Are the kittens located in an area with heavy foot or car traffic?
To help with your decision, it is important to know that it might take several hours for the mother cat to return, and healthy kittens can survive this period without food as long as they are warm. Neonatal kittens are much more at risk of hypothermia than they are of starvation. During spring and summer months, waiting a longer time to see if mom will come back is much safer than during frigid winter months.
The mother cat offers her newborn kittens their best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you safely can for her to return before removing them. The best food for the kittens is their mother’s milk. Remove the kittens only if they are in immediate, grave danger.
If the mother cat returns and is feral…
If mom returns and the area is relatively safe, leave the family outside and kittens alone with mom until they are old enough to be weaned. The mother will likely move the kittens, do not worry. If she knows this is a safe place with a stable food source, she will return with them. You can offer a shelter and regular food to mom, but keep the food and shelter at a distance from each other. Mom will find the food but will not accept your shelter if the food is nearby, because she will not want to attract other cats to food located near her nest. Never attempt to confine or house a feral mother cat, as this can be dangerous
If you are able to commit, the kittens should be taken away from their mom when they’re able to eat on their own (about 4-5 weeks old) for socialization, alter and adoption placement or when they are 8 weeks or older, for domestic and Trap-Neuter-Return (spay/neuter, vaccination, ear-tip, and return to their colony).
When you bring them inside, handle them often to get them used to human socialization. The kittens should be fixed and adopted out around 8-10 weeks of age.
If you cannot foster and socialize the kittens, leave the kittens outside! Don’t socialize a kitten that you cannot place; they will learn survival skills from their mother that will give them their best chance at outdoor survival as a feral cat.
Female cats can become pregnant with a new litter even while they are still nursing, so don’t forget to get the mother cat spayed or you will have more kittens soon. Contact Purr Angels (North Siskiyou County) for assistance in spaying and neutering feral cats and kittens at (530) 842-1875 or the STAR program (South Siskiyou County) at (530)926-6388. Both these agencies assist in TNR only and do accept cats or kittens for placement.
(Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is a program through which free-roaming cats (not belonging to particular humans) are humanely trapped, sterilized and medically treated, and returned to the outdoor locations where they were found.)
If the mother cat does not return…
If you discover that mom has been hit by a car, or if for any reason it appears that she is not coming back, then you should remove the kittens. This is crucial to the kittens’ survival. But you must be prepared to see this project through to weaning and possibly longer if you decide to intervene!
If you take the kittens in, it is unlikely that you will find an organization with available staff or volunteers to take on bottle-feeding on short notice. Some organizations do have experienced bottle-feeders, but prior logistical planning is necessary. Veterinarians generally do not take in newborn kittens, since they do not have the staff to feed and stimulate them for elimination around-the-clock.
You can contact the Siskiyou Humane Society at email@example.com or (530) 926-4052 and we will attempt to find someone to bottle-feed the kittens, but this might take days or weeks, and we may not be successful in locating a feeder or foster family. SHS does have a foster program that will assist the finder who is willing to take on the responsibility of bottle-feeding and/or fostering kittens. The program provides assistance with food, supplies and medical care until the kittens are at least 8 weeks and over 2 ½ pounds. At that time, if there is room, the kittens can be brought to the shelter. They will then be spayed/neutered and adopted. Once available kittens, are adopted quickly. There are requirements for this program such as an initial medical and behavior evaluation of the kittens and/or kittens and mom, appointments for vaccinations and checkups, and feral kittens must have enough socialization to be adoptable. SHS and their highly trained and experienced staff will be available to assist throughout this process. For more information about this program and program requirements, you may call and leave a message for the foster program coordinator or shelter manager at 530-926-4052.
If you do not want to bring the kittens to the shelter and are ready to take on the project of caring for a kitten from bottle feeding through adoption you can contact SHS for advice and guidance. You will be responsible for paying veterinary visits, which might include emergency medical care, and will definitely include spay or neuter surgery, disease testing, and vaccinations. Finally, you will be responsible for adopting the kittens into permanent homes. There is spay and neuter assistance available please be sure this is done to help stop the cycle of pet overpopulation.
Try to verify the age of the kittens.
This is important because you do not want to take a nursing kitten away from their mom or leave a kitten with their feral mom too long if you want to socialize them. There are many resources online to help with this process.
Under one week: Eyes shut, ears flat to head, skin looks pinkish. Part of umbilical cord may still be attached.
1 week-10 days: Eyes beginning to open, ears still flat. A kitten this age is smaller than your hand.
3 weeks: Eyes are fully open, ears are erect, and teeth are visible. Kittens this age are just starting to walk and will be very wobbly.
4-5 weeks: Eyes have changed from blue to another color and/or kittens have begun to pounce, leap, and are more mobile. Kittens this age will begin to eat gruel or canned food.
Here is a link to help verify age: http://aspcapro.org/blog/2014/07/03/tip-week-4-ways-tell-kittens-age
For tips on kitten socialization: https://www.alleycat.org/community-cat-care/kitten-socialization-how-to/
Kitten Care & Bottle-Feeding
- Prepare for bottle-feeding and proper care before you take the kittens off the street.
- If you feel you must take the kittens in, wrap the carrier or container you will transport them in in a towel for warmth, but make sure you leave air holes uncovered so the kittens won’t suffocate.
- Check to see if the kittens are warm. This is more important than feeding. Never feed a cold kitten! If the kittens are cold, you will need to warm them up slowly. You can tell a kitten is cold if the pads of his feet and/or ears feel cool or cold. Put your finger in the kitten’s mouth. If it feels cold, then the kitten’s temperature is too low. This is life-threatening and must be dealt with immediately. Warm up the kitten slowly over 20 minutes by wrapping him in a towel or baby blanket, holding him close to your body, and continually rubbing him with your warm hands.
- Determine the age of the kittens
Newborn kittens need to be fed and stimulated for elimination every three hours around-the-clock.
Feeding & Elimination
DO NOT FEED KITTENS REGULAR MILK, GOATS MILK OR HUMAN FORMULA
Neonatal kittens (under four weeks of age) cannot eat solid food (not canned, not dry) and cannot urinate or defecate on their own, so you must bottle-feed them around-the-clock and stimulate their genitals after every feeding so they can eliminate. For example, if you have kittens less than one week old, they will need to be fed and stimulated every three hours. That means you will be caring for them eight times a day — for example, at midnight, 3:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m., etc. If the kittens are unusually small or sickly, they might need to be fed every two hours.
Skipping feedings or overfeeding can cause diarrhea, which results in dehydration, a condition that can be fatal for small kittens (not to mention a hassle for you to clean up after). Diarrhea can require a visit to the veterinarian.
As the kittens age, the number of feedings they need per day goes down. You can start weaning at four weeks of age.
Milk Replacement Formulas
Powdered kitten milk replacement formula is better for kittens than the canned liquid formula. We recommend that you use only powdered kitten milk replacement formula from the start — or as soon as possible — to prevent diarrhea. Two major brands of formula are available: PetAg KMR® Powder and Farnam Pet Products Just Born® Highly Digestible Milk Replacer for Kittens. Both brands are available in both canned and powdered formulas It can be purchased at pet food stores such as Noah’s Ark or veterinarians’ offices, or online.
Make sure that the powdered formula you are using is fresh by opening the pop-top and smelling it. It should smell slightly sweet, like powdered milk. If it has a sharp smell like bad cooking oil, cheese, or chemicals, it is rancid, and dangerous to give to the kittens. Do not use any type of formula past the expiration date.
Once opened, kitten milk replacement formula (canned or powdered) must be refrigerated promptly and stored in the refrigerator. You cannot keep opened kitten milk replacement formula out of the refrigerator for very long before it spoils. Think of it as fresh milk.
Tip: Using unflavored Pedialyte electrolyte solution instead of water when mixing the powdered formula for the first 24 hours of feeding helps prevents diarrhea and eases the transition from mom’s milk to commercial kitten milk replacement formula.
Bottle-Feeding Guidance for Beginners
- Visit the NYC Feral Cat Initiative website for detailed information on bottle-feeding orphaned newborn kittens,
- Call us at (530) 926-4052 ext. * # and leave a voicemail in the general mailbox with your name, address, and a description of what instructions/information you need.
SHS offers advice and guidance, when in doubt please call the shelter at (530) 926-4052 and ask to speak to the foster program coordinator or shelter manager. We are closed Sundays and Mondays, please leave a voicemail message or message us on Facebook at Siskiyou Humane Society Adoption Center.
You’ve booked your next vacation or trip to visit family living far away, and have made all of the arrangements necessary. Except for who will watch your pet.
Millions of people across North America are pet owners. Although hotels and restaurants are increasingly amenable to pets, a good number of people prefer the convenience of leaving their pet home or in a qualified pet boarding facility.
At one time pet owners had limited options when it came time to arrange care for their animals while they were away. The choices were between asking a friend or family member. Today, however, trained professionals are available to watch your pets, some of whom will even come directly to the house or a qualified pet boarding facility. Hiring a pet sitter is nothing to take lightly, as it requires finding reputable sitters who are thoroughly vetted.
When the time comes to hire a pet sitter, you want to ensure the person is trained and professional. After all, this person will be coming into your home and caring for your pet or at a qualified pet boarding facility. Develop a series of questions you want answered, including a list of references, proof of bonding and insurance coverage, and fees and other requirements . You also want to ensure that the pet and the sitter will get along together.
Once you choose a sitter or a qualified pet boarding facility, there are ways to make the experience easier for all involved.
- Make a list of the things your pet enjoys and does not enjoy.
- List any food allergies or problems with the animal.
- Provide recent veterinarian check-up information and a basic health history.
- Communicate your needs and wants about the animal.
Pet Sitter specific questions:
- Establish rules for the home. Set up the home for the arrival of the sitter, including leaving out any necessary supplies for the pet.
- Clean up the house to prevent any hazards to the pet, including unplugging wires from outlets, and closing doors to rooms that are off-limits.
- Leave a radio on to simulate comforting noises in the house and keep the pet calm.
- Be sure the garbage is empty so that curious pets don’t get inside and eat something they shouldn’t.
The most important thing is the connection you have with the pet sitter and how well you both communicate about the needs of the animal. If you feel comfortable with the person, this improves the chances of a positive pet sitting experience.
What to Do If You Find a Stray Pet
If you have found a pet you need to act fast. People who have lost pets start their search immediately and then tend to scale down the search if there have been no results within about 2 weeks. If you have not taken the following steps in the first few days of your sheltering of the lost pet, you may have missed the “window” of opportunity that exists during the first two weeks when the owner is looking the hardest.
Check for Identification
Rabies and/or license tags will have a tag number and the information of who issued the tag. Contact the veterinarian or agency with the tag number, they should be able to then provide you with the owners information. If there is just a collar be sure to check it on both sides for writing, many owners will write their phone numbers directly on the collar. If the animal has no identification be sure to contact your local animal shelter or animal control office as well as our shelter. This will give you an opportunity to let the appropriate agency know that you have the animal and to provide a description to them, in case the owner contacts them. Also, have the animal scanned for a microchip at your local veterinarian or our shelter; this quick ID check could help you find the owner right away.
Spread the Word
Contact your local animal animal control agency or animal control office to check lost reports and file a found report. Contact our shelter and notify us of the animal’s description so that we can check it against our records of animals being reported lost. You can usually place a free “found” ad in your local newspaper. Take pictures and create a “found pet” flyer to post around the area in which the animal was found. You can also post notices at veterinary hospitals and feed stores. Check Craigslist for lost pets and post the found pet information as well as on social media pages. Spread the word to the children in the neighborhood. They have a communication network that reaches far beyond the neighborhood and it might bring quick results. Hopefully, within a short period of time, you will hear from the owner and you will enjoy the extreme pleasure of seeing a pet and its owner reunited, thanks to your kindness and caring. It is one of life’s greatest thrills to participate in a reunion of this type.
About Shelters and Animal Agencies
Understand the limitations of shelters and animal care and control agencies. Once you have taken the initiative, time and trouble to rescue a dog or cat along the highway, you might be surprised to find that the rest of the pet care community might not necessarily rush forward to do what you see as its part. Siskiyou Humane Society is a private nonprofit, limited admission Adoption Center not an Animal Control Facility. We are contracted with the City of Mt Shasta to hold stray animals picked up or seized by the City of Mt Shasta Police Dept (MSPD) within the city limits. If you have found a stray within the Mt Shasta city limits you should contact MSPD (see below) to report the animal and request the animal be picked up if it is in danger or causing a nuisance. If you find an animal outside of city limits you should contact Siskiyou County Animal Control.
Siskiyou County Animal Control
525 Foothill Drive • Yreka, CA 96097
Dunsmuir Animal Control
Phone: 530-235-4822 Ext.102
Mount Shasta Animal Control
Mount Shasta Police Department
Lake Shastina Community Services
Weed Animal Control
Weed Police Department
City Of Yreka Animal Control
Shasta County Animal Control
Check The Laws
To check on any relevant laws in your state, county, or town and contact your local animal control agency. Many times the animal you find along the highway will turn out to be un-owned, unwanted, and unclaimed. Even so, the person finding the stray dog or cat does not automatically become the owner or keeper until he has satisfied certain state and/or local requirements. See the FOOD AND AGRICULTURE CODE 31107 for California’s holding period. In almost every state, the animal is not “owned” by the finder until the holding period for strays (as specified by state or local laws) has expired and the finder has made an attempt to reunite the animal with his original owner and/or has taken steps—obtaining vaccinations, license, collar and identification tag—to prove he is now the owner.
Taking an Injured Animal to a Veterinarian
Before you take an injured animal to a private veterinary hospital for treatment, be willing to assume financial responsibility for the animal before treatment begins. Good care is not cheap, and many veterinarians have many Samaritans in their waiting rooms every year. Anyone who is committed to trying to save injured stray animals should discuss these issues in advance with the veterinarian.
Things To Consider
If you’re uncertain about whether or not to help or keep an animal you see alongside the road, here’s a final word of advice: First, think of what you would want the finder of your animal to do if he happened to find him injured without his collar. You’d want him to take your pet to a veterinarian, and you’d want him to try to find you. At the same time, be reasonable about how much you can afford to do for that animal if no owner shows up. Good Samaritans who have never lost a cherished companion animal may conclude that the owner of the found dog or cat callously abandoned him or, at the very least, neglected to keep him safely confined at home. But accidents can happen to anyone. The frantic owner could be looking everywhere for their beloved pet. Finally, be honest with yourself in answering these questions: Are you willing to add him to your household? And will you be willing to return him to his original home if the owner turns up after you’ve started to form an attachment? If you answer “no” to these questions, your best option may be to contact animal control for assistance or take the animal directly to an animal control facility.
Before It Happens:
If your pet(s) are outside at all they need to have on a collar and tag. This is their best ticket home. A collar without a tag is useless in helping your pet find his way home. Microchips are inexpensive and highly effective. They provide a means of identifying your pet that is nation-wide. Most vets and shelters have the ability to check for a microchip, and then call for the owner information. A dog or cat may lose a collar with tags, but not a microchip. Microchips are the size of a piece of rice, and are implanted under the skin by your vet. Microchips only work if you have registered and keep your information current with the microchip company data base.
For All Your Animals:
- Keep current I.D. photos of each of your animals, front and side.
- Write down detailed physical descriptions of your animals including eye color and distinguishing characteristics. Keep it on hand.
- Keep tags on your animals at all times as required by law.
- Write your address and phone number on their collars with an indelible ink marker.
- Keep a copy of your micro-chip and / or your rabies and city license tag numbers.
- If leaving your animal in the care of others, seriously consider your choice of caretaker. Provide them with the relevant information as described above. Consider professional kenneling.
When You Lose a Pet
When your beloved dog or cat strays from home, it can be a traumatic experience for both of you. Here are some tips that we hope will help you find your pet. Contact local animal shelters and animal control agencies: File a lost pet report with every shelter within a 60-mile radius of your home and visit the nearest shelters daily, if possible. In Siskiyou County we recommend filing a report with your local Police Department as well for some times their animal control officers are also community service officers. See below for a list of local agencies in Siskiyou County. If microchipped: If your pet is microchipped, call the Microchip Registry or log on to their website to confirm that your contact information is up-to-date. Be sure to alert them that your pet is missing. Social Media: Post on Craigs List, Facebook and Twitter. Many people post lost and found animals using the social media.
Siskiyou County Animal Control
525 Foothill Drive • Yreka, CA 96097
Dunsmuir Animal Control
Phone: 530-235-4822 Ext.102
Mount Shasta Animal Control
Mount Shasta Police Department
Lake Shastina Community Services
Weed Animal Control
Weed Police Department
City Of Yreka Animal Control
Shasta County Animal Control
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR FINDING A LOST DOG
- Search your neighborhood both on foot and by car. Dogs are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Search at other times as well, but focus on those two time periods. Cover the paths where you normally walk your dog, as well as surrounding areas. Draw a circle on a map with your home at the center. Extend the radius out a few miles so you can cover the area in a comprehensive, methodical way.
- Grab a leash, and take along some really stinky, yummy food you know your dog will love. If your dog has a favorite toy, bring that along as well. Toys that make noise, such as ones that squeak or jingle, are best. Whether you’re walking or driving, go slowly and shout out your dog’s name in a happy voice. (If you’re in a vehicle, having someone else drive so you’re free to shout out the window is advised). Assuming your dog is familiar with the phrase, “Wanna go for a ride?” say your dog’s name followed the phrase, uttered in the same tone you’d normally use. If your dog is trained to come when called, try calling their name and then giving the recall cue, also using the tone you’d normally use for the exercise.
- If you have another dog, or have access to another dog yours is friends with, take that dog along on searches. Leave articles of your clothing or your dogs bedding nearby where he was last seen.
- Bring a photo with you, and show it to everyone you pass. (If your dog is not currently lost, be sure to have a photo handy on your cell phone or printed out, just in case. You might also need it to claim your dog if he’s ever impounded at a shelter or humane society.)
- If your dog is not friendly with people, you can’t very well ask anyone to try to contain him; in that case, give out the number of your local animal control agency, and your cell number, and ask people to call immediately if they spot your dog. Even if your dog is people-friendly, tell people that if they do see him, not to chase him. Ask that they turn their body to the side (and even crouch down with the body turned sideways) and clap gently, using a happy voice to lure your dog to them. Ask that if they have a yard or other containment area, to coax your dog inside and then call you. Let people know if your dog is dog-friendly, in case they have a dog of their own. And if your offering don’t forget to mention the reward; positive reinforcement works for people, too.
- Be sure all of your neighbors are aware of the situation. If you feel it’s safe, knock on doors in your area, explain the situation, and leave people with a flyer. If someone is not home re-visit them later, they may have seen your dog earlier or have some type of information that could lead you to your dog.
- Post “Lost” flyers all around your neighborhood, using the map you marked up as a guide. Don’t crowd the flyer with text, as it should be easily readable by passing drivers. Include a photo, preferably in color. If you are offering a reward make sure the word “REWARD” is in very large letters. It’s also a good idea to add the phrase, “Needs medication.” This not only imparts a sense of urgency, but dissuades those who might believe in a “Finders, Keepers” policy from “adopting” your dog. It’s best to have small tear-off tags with your phone number at the bottom of the flyer, so that people take a tag rather than tearing down the entire flyer.
- Place a Lost Dog ad in your local papers, and be sure to search daily through the Found ads. Do the same for Craig’s List online, and any other classifieds sites local to your area.
- Give flyers to your local postal workers, and delivery drivers for services like UPS and FedEx. They’re the ones who are all over your neighborhood daily, so they have the best chance of spotting your dog. Give flyers to kids who are playing out in the street, and make sure they know there’s a reward. Alert local pet sitters, since they too are out and about in the community, and normally have other dogs with them that might attract your dog. Give flyers to anyone you can think of who spends time around your neighborhood—bus drivers, highway workers, utility workers, etc. Tell local trainers too, in case someone decides to keep your dog and then get him trained. The more people you tell, the better the chance someone will call you when your dog is spotted.
- Post flyers at your local veterinary offices, emergency clinics, shelters, humane societies, groomers, pet supply stores, kennels, any other dog-related businesses, and dog parks. Post too at laundromats, supermarkets, community bulletin boards, and anywhere else that will allow it.
- Spread the virtual word! Share your information on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to include a photo.
- Let local rescue groups know, too. If your dog is purebred, someone might try to turn him in to the breed rescue group rather than dropping him off at a shelter. Even if he’s a mixed breed, make sure local rescue groups have your phone number and a description/photo of your dog. Search your local shelter, and any that are within roaming distance, daily. Don’t just call—you must show up in person
- While at the shelter, have them double check the “found” postings. Someone might have your dog at home and doesn’t want to turn him in.
- Search all of the places you can think of that a dog might find attractive. Local dog parks, fields that contain rabbits or squirrels, woods, garbage dumps, and dumpsters behind restaurants are all good bets. When you search on foot, be sure to keep an eye on bushes and under cars, as those are common hiding places for a frightened dog, or one who is napping.
- There are companies that will, for a fee, search for your dog by generating flyers and employing a voluminous contact list. This can be especially helpful if you work full time or are otherwise too busy to conduct a full-on search effort on your own.
- If your dog was hit by a car or otherwise injured, he may have been taken to a local veterinarian.
- This one might seem odd to some, but you might contact a pet psychic. Yes, there are many…let’s say, “non-talented” folks out there calling themselves psychics. But some are talented enough that they can at least let you know the type of setting where they “see” the dog, which could provide the clue that helps you to find him.
- If you spot your dog on the street, be sure to follow the body language suggested in point #5. You could even try running the other way, encouraging him in a happy voice to chase you, until you get the chance to put a leash on him.
- Think positive. Visualize your dog home safe and sound. Most importantly, don’t give up! I know of a few cases where a dog was lost, and someone took the dog in for a few months and then gave it up to a shelter. Keep looking; organization, hope, and perseverance are the most valuable tools you have. Here’s to your dog getting home safe and sound.
Since 57% of American households today own either a dog or cat, most children will be around pets—in their own homes, the homes of friends and relatives, and in their communities. Teaching children how to treat animals kindly is a lesson that will have practical applications in their daily lives.
Learning to understand and respect the needs and feelings of animals promotes core character values like compassion, kindness and empathy. Humane education also teaches important life skills like responsibility to others and safety around pets.
The Siskiyou Humane Society offers a variety of humane education presentations for classrooms, youth groups and community organizations. These presentations are free of charge and made possible by the generous support of our donors and community.
For Teachers and Educators
Our classroom presentations are designed to help you meet your teaching goals. By promoting kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, we can assist you in meeting state standards in character education. All presentations can be customized for any size and age group, from class room to school assembly. We can also tailor our talks to tie in with specific lesson plans.
May I Pet the Doggy?
This short presentation uses exercises and demonstrations to teach young children how to be safe meeting dogs, how to ask before they approach dogs on leash, and what to do when “the growly dog” comes.
(Preschool – 3rd Grade, approx. 30 minutes)
What Does It Mean When A Dog Wags His Tail?
According to statistics, dog bites are the #2 reason for emergency room visits by children. In this presentation, children learn to recognize and respect dog body language signals to stay safer around dogs.
(4th Grade & up, approx. 30-45 minutes)
What Do Pets Need?
Children learn, through interactive discussion and exercises, what their pets need for happy, healthy lives.
(3rd grade & up, approx. 30 minutes, can be combined with other talks)
In addition to classroom visits, we also offer educational opportunities at our Adoption Center, including:
- Shelter Tours We have education programs available by appointment for all age groups and organizations. Tours are also available. For more information please contact Emily or Kim at 530-926-4052, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Job Shadowing
- School Project Mentoring
- Service & Volunteer Projects
The Siskiyou Humane Society can provide speakers for parent, family and service groups interested in humane education and animal welfare topics.
Scheduling a Presentation
Contact us by phone or e-mail with the following information:
- Contact Person Name
- Phone Number & Best Time to Call
- The school/class location
- Age of students
- Number of students
- Requested Programs
- Proposed Time & Dates
by Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed.
Anyone who considers a pet a beloved friend, companion, or family member knows the intense pain that accompanies the loss of that friend. Following are some tips on coping with that grief, and with the difficult decisions one faces upon the loss of a pet.
1. Am I crazy to hurt so much?
Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly, crazy, or overly sentimental to grieve!
During the years you spent with your pet (even if they were few), it became a significant and constant part of your life. It was a source of comfort and companionship, of unconditional love and acceptance, of fun and joy. So don’t be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a relationship.
People who don’t understand the pet/owner bond may not understand your pain. All that matters, however, is how you feel. Don’t let others dictate your feelings: They are valid, and may be extremely painful. But remember, you are not alone: Thousands of pet owners have gone through the same feelings.
2. What Can I Expect to Feel?
Different people experience grief in different ways. Besides your sorrow and loss, you may also experience the following emotions:
- Guilt may occur if you feel responsible for your pet’s death-the “if only I had been more careful” syndrome. It is pointless and often erroneous to burden yourself with guilt for the accident or illness that claimed your pet’s life, and only makes it more difficult to resolve your grief.
- Denial makes it difficult to accept that your pet is really gone. It’s hard to imagine that your pet won’t greet you when you come home, or that it doesn’t need its evening meal. Some pet owners carry this to extremes, and fear their pet is still alive and suffering somewhere. Others find it hard to get a new pet for fear of being “disloyal” to the old.
- Anger may be directed at the illness that killed your pet, the driver of the speeding car, the veterinarian who “failed” to save its life. Sometimes it is justified, but when carried to extremes, it distracts you from the important task of resolving your grief.
- Depression is a natural consequence of grief, but can leave you powerless to cope with your feelings. Extreme depression robs you of motivation and energy, causing you to dwell upon your sorrow.
3. What can I do about my feelings?
The most important step you can take is to be honest about your feelings. Don’t deny your pain, or your feelings of anger and guilt. Only by examining and coming to terms with your feelings can you begin to work through them.
You have a right to feel pain and grief! Someone you loved has died, and you feel alone and bereaved. You have a right to feel anger and guilt, as well. Acknowledge your feelings first, then ask yourself whether the circumstances actually justify them.
Locking away grief doesn’t make it go away. Express it. Cry, scream, pound the floor, talk it out. Do what helps you the most. Don’t try to avoid grief by not thinking about your pet; instead, reminisce about the good times. This will help you understand what your pet’s loss actually means to you.
Some find it helpful to express their feelings and memories in poems, stories, or letters to the pet. Other strategies including rearranging your schedule to fill in the times you would have spent with your pet; preparing a memorial such as a photo collage; and talking to others about your loss.
4. Who can I talk to?
If your family or friends love pets, they’ll understand what you’re going through. Don’t hide your feelings in a misguided effort to appear strong and calm! Working through your feelings with another person is one of the best ways to put them in perspective and find ways to handle them. Find someone you can talk to about how much the pet meant to you and how much you miss it-someone you feel comfortable crying and grieving with.
If you don’t have family or friends who understand, or if you need more help, ask your veterinarian or humane association to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group. Check with your church or hospital for grief counseling. Remember, your grief is genuine and deserving of support.
5. When is the right time to euthanize a pet?
Your veterinarian is the best judge of your pet’s physical condition; however, you are the best judge of the quality of your pet’s daily life. If a pet has a good appetite, responds to attention, seeks its owner’s company, and participates in play or family life, many owners feel that this is not the time. However, if a pet is in constant pain, undergoing difficult and stressful treatments that aren’t helping greatly, unresponsive to affection, unaware of its surroundings, and uninterested in life, a caring pet owner will probably choose to end the beloved companion’s suffering.
Evaluate your pet’s health honestly and unselfishly with your veterinarian. Prolonging a pet’s suffering in order to prevent your own ultimately helps neither of you. Nothing can make this decision an easy or painless one, but it is truly the final act of love that you can make for your pet.
6. Should I stay during euthanasia?
Many feel this is the ultimate gesture of love and comfort you can offer your pet. Some feel relief and comfort themselves by staying: They were able to see that their pet passed peacefully and without pain, and that it was truly gone. For many, not witnessing the death (and not seeing the body) makes it more difficult to accept that the pet is really gone. However, this can be traumatic, and you must ask yourself honestly whether you will be able to handle it. Uncontrolled emotions and tears-though natural-are likely to upset your pet.
Some clinics are more open than others to allowing the owner to stay during euthanasia. Some veterinarians are also willing to euthanize a pet at home. Others have come to an owner’s car to administer the injection. Again, consider what will be least traumatic for you and your pet, and discuss your desires and concerns with your veterinarian. If your clinic is not able to accommodate your wishes, request a referral.
7. What do I do next?
When a pet dies, you must choose how to handle its remains. Sometimes, in the midst of grief, it may seem easiest to leave the pet at the clinic for disposal. Check with your clinic to find out whether there is a fee for such disposal. Some shelters also accept such remains, though many charge a fee for disposal.
If you prefer a more formal option, several are available. Home burial is a popular choice, if you have sufficient property for it. It is economical and enables you to design your own funeral ceremony at little cost. However, city regulations usually prohibit pet burials, and this is not a good choice for renters or people who move frequently.
To many, a pet cemetery provides a sense of dignity, security, and permanence. Owners appreciate the serene surroundings and care of the gravesite. Cemetery costs vary depending on the services you select, as well as upon the type of pet you have. Cremation is a less expensive option that allows you to handle your pet’s remains in a variety of ways: bury them (even in the city), scatter them in a favorite location, place them in a columbarium, or even keep them with you in a decorative urn (of which a wide variety is available).
Check with your veterinarian, pet shop, or phone directory for options available in your area. Consider your living situation, personal and religious values, finances, and future plans when making your decision. It’s also wise to make such plans in advance, rather than hurriedly in the midst of grief.
8. What should I tell my children?
You are the best judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the loss of their pet. Don’t underestimate them, however. You may find that, by being honest with them about your pet’s loss, you may be able to address some fears and misperceptions they have about death.
Honesty is important. If you say the pet was “put to sleep,” make sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Never say the pet “went away,” or your child may wonder what he or she did to make it leave, and wait in anguish for its return. That also makes it harder for a child to accept a new pet. Make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain.
Never assume a child is too young or too old to grieve. Never criticize a child for tears, or tell them to “be strong” or not to feel sad. Be honest about your own sorrow; don’t try to hide it, or children may feel required to hide their grief as well. Discuss the issue with the entire family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief at their own pace.
9. Will my other pets grieve?
Pets observe every change in a household, and are bound to notice the absence of a companion. Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and the survivor of such a pair may seem to grieve for its companion. Cats grieve for dogs, and dogs for cats.
You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Remember that, if you are going to introduce a new pet, your surviving pets may not accept the newcomer right away, but new bonds will grow in time. Meanwhile, the love of your surviving pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief.
10. Should I get a new pet right away?
Generally, the answer is no. One needs time to work through grief and loss before attempting to build a relationship with a new pet. If your emotions are still in turmoil, you may resent a new pet for trying to “take the place” of the old-for what you really want is your old pet back. Children in particular may feel that loving a new pet is “disloyal” to the previous pet.
When you do get a new pet, avoid getting a “lookalike” pet, which makes comparisons all the more likely. Don’t expect your new pet to be “just like” the one you lost, but allow it to develop its own personality. Never give a new pet the same name or nickname as the old. Avoid the temptation to compare the new pet to the old one: It can be hard to remember that your beloved companion also caused a few problems when it was young!
A new pet should be acquired because you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship-rather than looking backward and mourning your loss. When you are ready, select an animal with whom you can build another long, loving relationship-because this is what having a pet is all about!
To find a support group near you and for more helpful information go to http://pet-loss.net/.
For more information on choosing a new pet and determining when the time is right, please see Ten Tips on Choosing a New Pet.