Cats Protection helps break taboo of grieving for pets

Grieving for a pet may be a taboo subject for many, but charity Cats Protection is helping to bring down the barriers with a free support service.

Ahead of Grief Awareness Day (30 August), the charity has highlighted its Paws to Listen service and released tips to help people cope with the loss of a cat.

With as many as 55% of employed people admitting they hid their grief at work for a pet for fear of being ridiculed, the service offers people the chance to speak openly about their loss with a free confidential support line.

Cats Protection’s Paws to Listen Team leader Catherine Joyce, said: “Now more than ever, we are aware of the need to talk about and process our feelings as a way to cope with distressing events in our lives. Yet grieving for a pet, especially a cat, is often not recognised in society as a significant loss. This means many people do not feel they can openly talk about how grief has affected them, which can cause them to feel very alone.

“For some people, their cat may have been with them through all sorts of life changes, such as having children, getting married or coping with illnesses. For other people, their cat may have been their main source of company. It’s perfectly understandable that their death can have a huge hole and it can be a real struggle to cope, particularly if it’s not possible to talk it through with someone who truly understands.”

The charity’s tips for helping cope with losing a pet include:

Remember grief is different for everyone – grief is a very personal process, and everyone experiences it differently. You may feel a wide range of emotions and these are completely normal.

There’s no limit on grief – You might find that your grief subsides after a few weeks or months, or it could last for a year or more, but the very intense feelings will eventually fade. Be patient and allow yourself to feel the sadness and pain. Only you will know when you’re ready to move on.

Look after yourself – it can be difficult to stay healthy and active when you’re grieving and looking after yourself will help you to cope. Try to keep up your daily routine, eat healthily and get plenty of sleep. Also avoid things that could ‘numb’ the pain, such as alcohol, this will only make you feel worse when the initial effect wears off.

Talking helps – sharing how you feel with someone who understands how important the cat was to you can help you process your grief and cope with painful emotions. You can talk to a friend, family member or use Cats Protection’s Paws to Listen service. If your grief becomes complex or prolonged, you might find that speaking to a counsellor will help. Talk to your GP about finding a suitable counsellor for you.

Cats Protection’s Paws to Listen service is operated by trained volunteers, who can offer emotional and practical help in coping with the loss of a cat. The service also has a range of resources and information to help including understanding euthanasia and how to help children deal with the death of a much-loved pet.

Lianne Coleman, 32, used the service to help her come to terms with the death of her 11-year old cat Skittles, who died just eight weeks after being diagnosed with lymphoma in May this year.

She said: “Skittles had helped me through so much, from mental health issues in my 20s to getting back on my feet and settling down to get married. She was there for the good times and the bad and we had a very close bond.

“Losing her really knocked me – suddenly my constant companion was gone. Friends and family tried to say comforting things, but it didn’t help me get over my feelings of loss. I also felt guilty, as it was up to me to take that final decision for her to be put to sleep.

“Speaking to someone at Paws to Listen helped me enormously – the volunteers helped me understand that I had done the right thing and that my feelings were perfectly normal. I still have ups and down, but the support from Paws to Listen has helped me focus on the good memories and to cope with my feelings of loss.”

Although the service is confidential, Lianne said she wanted to speak publicly to help other people in need of support following the loss of a cat.

As well as the support line and information guides, Cats Protection also offers a memory wall on its website, where owners can pay tribute to their pets, and a page where people can offer support to other cat owners in similar situations.

The service is available between 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, except Bank Holidays. Anyone wishing to use the service can call 0800 024 9494 and a call back service is available if lines are busy.

To find out more, you can visit www.cats.org.uk/grief.