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What to Say for the Loss of a Pet

Is it appropriate to send a card when someone you care about has lost a pet? It's more and more common these days, as, for many people, their beloved dog or cat is not just a member of the family, but a constant, faithful companion. Not surprisingly, some of these statements and phrases also apply to human loss, for a simple reason: it is a loss, and grieving the loss of a pet is very real grief.

As is the case with sympathy and loss in general, this sea can be tricky to navigate. Here are a few things to consider.

Don't say:

"So, will you get another Border Collie?"

She may well get another, but right now, she's grieving the loss, not of a Border Collie, but of Parker, the beloved dog that ensured that her child never came home from school to an empty house. If you're lucky, you get one of those in your life, and hers just passed away.

Try these:

"I'm just so sorry."

"Parker sure was lucky to have you in his life."

"He was one in a million."

These don't minimize her suffering, assure her that she was as good for her pet as he was to her family, and doesn't suggest that Parker was replaceable.

Don't say:

"Good thing you've still got ________ (name of other pet)."

Let her be the judge of whether or not she's grateful to still have her other pet. Right now she's in grief mode, and it's not up to you to shift her into gratitude mode. If she brings it up, by all means, nod and agree.

Again, you'll want to try something closer to these:

"Oh — what a loss for you and the kids."

"Parker sure was a great dog."

"You did all you could do for Parker."

In short:

The rules of general sympathy and loss apply: Don't compare your loss to theirs. It may be similar, but let her make that connection or comparison. Understand that this is a process — one that moves at its own pace. If you listen and offer your empathy and support, you will have done all you can.