Monday, July 18, 2016

Pet Loss: When A "Pocket Pet" Dies

[Reviewed and updated January 23, 2021]

A person's a person, no matter how small.  ~ Dr. Seuss

A reader writes: I had a sweet, loving Guinea pig for over three years. Her name was Pippin. She would cuddle up on my lap almost every night and squeal happy squeals and stand up on her hind legs when I walked into the room. We had been taking care of our son's dog for three weeks. The dog was blind and had many maladies, but was so sweet, always wagging his tail. When my son returned last Friday, the dog had developed a huge hematoma on his ear. My son couldn't afford the vet bills so he was going to put the dog down the next day, last Saturday. We said we would adopt the dog and take care of the vet bills so we cancelled the noon euthanasia appointment. About 4 hours later we left to run errands. That was our mistake, that I am feeling so guilty for.
Somehow, even though the dog was blind and had NEVER shown an interest in the guinea pig for all the weeks he was here, he found his way over to the Guinea pig cage and killed her. Sense of smell I guess. I opened the front door after running the errands and found the dog with my sweet Guinea pig in his mouth and she was dead. When I screamed, he just dropped her on the floor. 

What is so ironic and horrible is that the dog got worse over the weekend and we took him in for surgery on Monday and the vet suggested we put him down, which we did. So, I lost 2 animals in 48 hours last week. Not that I'm not sad about the dog, but I just can't forget the image of Pippin in his mouth. I have had some people say, "It's just a guinea pig, get over it." 

I trust that I will be understood in your Loss of a Pet forum. My heart goes out to everyone who has posted there. I thank them for sharing their stories and I thank you for reading mine.

My response: My friend, I am so sorry to read of the tragic death of your precious Pippin. What a horrible, traumatic experience this must have been for you.

Your story reminds me of a man who wrote to me several years ago, completely distraught over the loss of his hamster. He had adopted his precious little friend, appropriately named Hammy, the same day he moved into his new home two years before. He told me that he had never slept a night in his house without him; both of them were always together under the same roof. When he came home from work one day and found Hammy’s motionless body at the bottom of his cage, he literally broke down, sobbing hysterically. As a grown man, he never thought he would ever react that way, he said, but after all, he had cleaned Hammy’s cage every week, fed him every day, placed him in his ball to play every day, scratched his back, tickled his tummy ~ for two whole years! Every single day! “How else am I supposed to react?” he cried. “Who will I feed tonight? Who will I play with tonight?”

Because so-called pocket pets like hamsters, mice and Guinea pigs are so small, some folks do not consider them as “important” as the more traditional pets like dogs and cats, and our attachments to these precious creatures can be discounted and minimized as insignificant, or in some cases even silly. But what matters here is the relationship between you and your beloved Pippin, which is just as valid and just as strong as what you’d have with anyone else you’ve grown to love and cherish ~ and just as worthy of your grief.

Complicating your grief may be any guilt that you feel over the circumstances of Pippin’s death, as well as your decision to have your son’s dog euthanized, all within a matter of days. I hope you’ll take whatever time you need to sort through all your feelings about all of this ~ and the Loss of a Pet forum on our Grief Healing Discussion Groups site is a safe place for you to do that. No judgments there. Clearly Pippin’s death was an accidental one, and we know you would do anything to go back and change what happened. Please remember that feeling guilty about all of this just indicates that you are a good and decent person who feels awful about what happened. Feeling guilty does not mean that you are guilty as charged. It is a feeling, and once expressed and worked through, it can be dealt with and released.

When you feel ready to do so, I hope you’ll do some reading about the grief that accompanies pet loss, along with the guilt that follows a traumatic, accidental death like Pippin’s. You might begin with those I’ve listed below ~ and be sure to see the Related Articles and Resources listed at their bases, too.

Pet Loss: Is It a Different Kind of Grief?

Common Myths, Misconceptions about Pet Loss

Pet Loss: Guilt in the Wake of the Euthanasia Decision

Pet Loss: Guilt In the Wake of A Kitten’s Accidental Death

Children and Pet Loss: A Family Deals with an Accidental Death

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