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Dog - Chocolate LabAnimals have always been important to us, but have recently become an integral part of the family. Their loss can cause just as much or more sorrow and grief as losing any family member. Ignoring that grief can make recovery more difficult and take a longer time to recover. There are multiple stages of grief which everyone generally goes through. Understanding the stages of grief and finding ways to cope with the loss can help shorten the time it takes to remember our pets with smiles and not tears.

Denial is generally considered the first stage of grief. It is a natural reaction for the body to protect itself against the shock and pain of losing a loved one.

Anger comes realization that our pet is truly gone and we are not ready to let them go. We want someone or something to blame. We may take our anger out on other family members, friends, the illness that killed the pet, or the veterinarian for not saving their pet.

Guilt may occur when we feel responsible for our pet's death. We keep repeating the events just before our pet's illness or death thinking "what if." This stage can be difficult to work through and resolve.

Depression to any loss comes naturally, but can leave us with no energy or motivation to continue on. The sadness you feel during this time is expected and you should not be ashamed of it. It is during this stage we start to separate and tell our pets good-bye. This may be the hardest stage to get through and when we may need the most help and understanding from others.

Acceptance is the final stage to grief. We may never get over the loss of our pet. There may be times when our sadness comes back such as holidays and birthdays, but gradually the grief will become less often and less intense.

Coping with the loss of your pet starts with allowing yourself to grieve and know it is alright to be "angry" or "sad." Only you will know when it is time to let go.

Don't be afraid to reach out for help from family, friends, or pet loss support groups. Web sites like Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (aplb.org) are available to help you work through grief or to "chat" with others going through the same thing.

Now may be the time to start a project you did not have time for. The project can keep you busy and your mind can have time to work through your grief.

If you have other pets, they can be your best allies in dealing with grief. Pets not only realize that a family member is gone, but feel your sadness and sorrow. Giving them extra love and attention will allow them to give you the extra love and understanding that you need. You can heal together.

You may want to create a legacy for your pet. Planting a tree or making a memory book can create a legacy where you can look at and remember the good times with your pet.

Please remember grief takes time and help from others. Don't be afraid to ask for that help.