Health & Wellbeing

Navigating Pet Loss with Pet Grief Counselor Beth Bigler

When you have to say the hardest goodbye, there'll be a helping hand to guide you.

“You don’t know what I know.”

With his face cupped in my hands, I tell this to our 9 year-old cocker spaniel Ziggy often.

He’s a perfectly healthy boy, but with every grey hair that appears around his face and floppy ears, so too does a deep sense of dread.

It feels silly sometimes, but I can’t escape the fact I am terrified of losing him.

Ziggy and Sunny are so entrenched in every aspect of mine and Katy’s lives, that imagining a world without them feels utterly wrong and impossible.

Losing your pet is, unfortunately, something every loving pet parent will face one day. And like all forms of grief, navigating such monumental loss can be incredibly painful and challenging.

That’s where Pet Loss Grief Counselor, Beth Bigler, comes in. Known for her popular Instagram account @honoringouranimals, there Beth shares inspirational content and empowering resources to support grieving pet parents.

We sat down with Beth to learn about her work as a pet grief counselor, and hear her top tips on how to deal with pet loss.

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Navigating Pet Loss with Pet Grief Counselor Beth Bigler

How to Deal with Pet Loss: An Interview with Pet Grief Counselor Beth Bigler

We’re going to start with the big question: Why is losing a pet so hard? 

For many grieving pet parents, their companion animal relationship is the most intimate and loving in their life. 

When’s the last time your pet lied to you, made you feel bad about yourself, or held an unrealistically high expectation of you? 

We receive so many gifts from our pets that we may not have felt from humans in our life, including acceptance, unconditional love, and unwavering loyalty. 

Many pet parents also feel a deep sense of identity about their life with their soulmate pet. So when their pet is no longer earthside, many lose their sense of purpose.

“Losing a pet can feel as distressing or more upsetting than human loss, which is absolutely valid and very common.”

You have personally lost a soulmate pet. How did this inspire you to become a pet grief counselor?

When I received a devastating diagnosis for my soulmate, Arnie, I didn’t know how I could possibly survive his death. He was my rock, my anchor, my protector, my whole heart. I wasn’t even sure if I even wanted to live in a world without him.

Through my own experience with anticipatory pet loss grief counseling and post-loss grief counseling, I decided to change my career path so that Arnie and I could help empower, educate, and nurture others through their own grief.

Now, in my private practice, I support those experiencing their own sorrow. I believe deeply in people’s abilities to use their own strengths, and the gifts of their beloved soulmate pets, to help guide them through their grief.

my animal taught me more about love than humans did

You’ve created a beautiful Instagram community where pet parents feel safe to share their grief. Why do you think your content resonates with grieving pet parents?

When someone discovers @honoringouranimals for the first time, I often hear the feedback, “Wow, you really get it.”

Due to my own experience with pet grief, and having worked intimately with many grieving pet parents, I understand a diverse range of experiences – from sudden loss to behavioral euthanasia, missing pets to prolonged battles with terminal illness. 

“My content is also inclusive of many different beliefs and feelings, and also writes a lot of “permission slips” that it’s okay to feel (or not feel) a certain way. We can be so judgemental of ourselves, that it can be comforting to find someone who isn’t going to judge you.”

Pet grief can begin long before a pet’s passing. How does anticipatory grief affect pet parents?

Anticipatory grief is a vicious roller coaster. There are many complex emotions, including uncertainty, fear, hyper-vigilance, powerlessness, anger, dread, and sorrow. 

Not knowing the trajectory of our pet’s sickness and the “when” around their death can feel crippling for many pet parents.

Many become unsure how their life will go on without their pet, or worried they aren’t doing enough. Some just want it to be over because it’s so hard. 

This is where anticipatory grief counseling can be so helpful.

I support grievers in feeling more present with their pets during their remaining time, by finding achievable ways to practice self-care while working through end-of-life decisions in a safe, knowledgeable, and non-judgemental space.

Anticipatory Pet Loss Grief Tips

What do you think pet parents should know when grieving the loss of their pet? 

Knowing how to deal with pet loss can be hard, and there are many different aspects of pet grief to address. Here are some of my top reminders:

  1. Your feelings are valid and profound. You are not alone.
  2. Allow your feelings to move through you. Don’t stuff them down or judge them. The more you can release your feelings, the more easily grief moves through you.
  3. Say YES to anyone who offers to help, even if it’s uncomfortable to accept.
  4. Just because you *feel* guilty about some aspect of your pet’s life, doesn’t mean you have actually done something wrong.
  5. Begin a self-compassion practice. Speak to yourself kindly, the way you would speak to a friend.
  6. It’s AWESOME to memorialize and celebrate your soulmate pet – through art, funeral, altar, or celebration of life party. Share stories about them on social media and with friends or in any way that feels supportive.
  7. Connect with other pet loss grievers. Read stories, comment on other losses, and find people or groups who have experienced soulmate pet loss.  The support, friendship, and reassurance these sharing with others brings is tremendous.
  8. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional like a pet loss grief counselor or therapist. We walk with people through their grief journeys and provide strategies, tools, and nurturing to help process their pain.

dear soulmate pet

Do you feel society is getting better at recognising pet grief? 

Pet loss grief is disenfranchised, which means it is a grief that’s not openly acknowledged, socially mourned, or publicly supported. It’s not recognized by our culture as a significant loss.

People still say things like, “it’s just a dog” or, “it’s only a cat” and many grievers can feel minimized, isolated, embarrassed, and even shamed for their grief.  No one is sending sympathy cards, bringing casseroles, or giving employees time off work for pet bereavement.

My dream is to create a cultural perspective shift on the human-soulmate pet bond, and the impact of animal companion grief on pet parents. In the future, I hope that when a pet receives a terminal diagnosis or dies, people will have tremendous support from their families, workplaces, and communities.

Grieving pet parents won’t have to wonder if they are ‘crazy,’ ‘weird,’ or ‘overreacting’ to their feelings. They’ll know their feelings are valid and that I and many others “get it.” 

Pet Grief support tips with Beth Bigler

What is your #1 tip for pet parents grieving the loss of their pet?

My all-time favorite tip is this: never stop using your pet’s name!

At the coffee shop or restaurant for your order, in the sand, in the snow, in a poem, on your jewelry, or simply out loud whenever you need a boost.

Say their name, write their name, celebrate their name and their life everywhere you go.

“The gifts, guidance, lessons, and teachings of your soulmate pet are a part of you always. Now, you get to carry their legacy into the world. Your relationship with your soulmate pet continues: you can give to it, receive from it, and it can evolve and expand for all time. Your bond is forever – your love story never ends.”

– ABOUT BETH BIGLER –

Pet Grief counselor Beth Bigler

Beth is a double-certified Pet Loss Grief Counselor, certified end-of-life animal companion doula, and pet chaplain. 

 Beth is also known for her Instagram account @honoringoursoulmate pets where she shares inspirational daily content and tips on pet loss grief.

 A regular contributor to podcasts, articles, and media, Beth works closely with soulmate pet care workers, veterinary professionals, and other pet industry brands on grief training and awareness.

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM

Navigating Pet Loss with Pet Grief Counselor Beth Bigler

Navigating Pet Loss with Pet Grief Counselor Beth Bigler

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Pick of the Week

  • cuddle clones plush toy of your pet

    Original Plush Cuddle Clone

    It’s the one-of-a-kind plush toy that pet parents have fallen in love with! Create a cuddly replica of your pet that captures all their adorable features.