How to deal with memories from an animal attack?
November 19, 2014 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I recently lost my pet cat to a coyote attack. I think I'm dealing with the grief of his death OK, but I'm feeling a little murkier about the trauma from the actual incident, which I was present for.

So, I had an incredibly close relationship with this cat, and his death hit me pretty hard. The grief has been hard but I understand the process and I'm working through it. A few weeks have passed, though, and I still get occasional flashbacks to the incident itself. I woke up hearing his screams in the night, ran outside to see two coyotes tearing at him, and in his shock he attacked me pretty seriously too while I rescued him (I had to euthanize him two days later when it was clear he wouldn't recover). The whole thing was very bloody and unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. I'm not losing any sleep or having panic attacks when I remember it, but it does reawaken my grief and usually brings me to tears.

I basically have no idea what to do with this experience. Is it part of the whole grief package? Or is it its own thing? Will it fade on its own with time? I have been seeing my therapist about this and I have friends who are supportive of my loss, but don't know of anyone who has experienced a violent incident like that before.
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What an extremely traumatic thing you've gone through. My god, I can't even imagine.

It's only been a few weeks. Please continue seeing your therapist and leaning on your supportive friends. Give yourself full permission to feel all the grief, anger, pain, and fear you need to feel right now in order to work through this experience -- don't try to repress it or forget about it. It's good that you're not losing sleep or having panic attacks over this, but it is definitely something you need to allow yourself lots of time time to recover from.
posted by erst at 9:39 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Time will do 95% of the work. You should have a pretty dramatic drop in the flashbacks over the next few weeks as your brain does the Traumatic Event Housekeeping Routines that move it from shorter-term to longer-term memory.

That doesn't mean that it won't pop up every so often when you are having a bout of late night regrets or if you see/hear something similar. But it shouldn't be anywhere near the frequency you're experiencing right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:44 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lyn Never is saying, in a very technical way, "It gets better". My deepest condolences.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2014

I can't even imagine how horrible that must have been. You have my deepest condolences.

Time will help. Every traumatic thing I've been through (while not this violent at all) has faded with time. The flashbacks became less frequent and less vivid. I really think this is all part of the grief process, but it's also part of the way our brains handle trauma. Let yourself feel the feelings, but know that it will pass.
posted by bedhead at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2014

BuddhaInABucket: "I basically have no idea what to do with this experience. Is it part of the whole grief package? Or is it its own thing? Will it fade on its own with time? I have been seeing my therapist about this and I have friends who are supportive of my loss, but don't know of anyone who has experienced a violent incident like that before."

Yeah, this is an incredibly rare and tragic loss you have suffered. The number of people who have lost pets to violence is probably orders of magnitude less than the number of people who have lost their human loved ones to violence. I'm afraid you will be blazing your own trail to healing on this one, but I do have a couple of suggestions. First, perhaps your therapist can recommend a group therapy setting with others who have witnessed other kinds of traumatic violence? While your struggles and challenges won't be identical, I suspect they will have more to offer you than the standard "Pet Loss" therapy group. That said, I work at a veterinary teaching hospital, and we have a licensed social worker on staff to help our clients deal with the stresses and tragedies of specialty and emergency veterinary care. I wonder if the veterinary school nearest you (I think UC Davis, if your profile is correct) might have a similar person, or be able to recommend one to you.

I also want to say that time will heal. My wife is a Veterinary Technician, and she had already been in the career several years when she had a traumatic experience working in an emergency department. A client brought in a severely wounded pet and presented it to my wife without warning her what she was about to see, and the graphic nature of the wounds really shook her quite badly. To the point that she thought that she might have to give up her career at one point. But, she worked through the trauma and, while it is always in the back of her mind, she views it as a source of strength now. I hope you are able to come to a similar place in time. Be well.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:07 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Time, but expect a certain amount of it to stick around, if muted. I had a nasty and scary incident with a dog as a teenager and well over a decade later I'm still quite cautious around dogs. I can only imagine that the more violent the incident, the more that's true.
posted by mchorn at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2014

If you don't want to just wait, EMDR can be very helpful with this kind of thing. It seems to help settle the memories so they don't carry the emotional whallop. One or two sessions should be enough for this kind of recent, specific trauma. Your therapist could probably recommend someone. (I'm not urging you to rush out do this - but it is an option that allows you to pay some money to get more immediate relief.)
posted by metahawk at 12:03 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wish I had some advice to offer, I've been there and it's the absolute worst. I can tell you that 8 years on I still have flashbacks (rarely) and it's really hard to think about. I mostly deal with it by hugging my dog. So sorry that this happened to you. I feel your pain.
posted by kris.reiss at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2014

Time and distance from the event will lessen the impact of recalling it. My sister, who lost her dog in a similarly traumatic way and thought she'd never recover, confirms this. I am so sorry this happened to your family :(
posted by DarlingBri at 1:04 PM on November 19, 2014

What a horrific thing to go through :( so sorry for the double whammy. I haven't had the same experience but do have a history of PTSD. Sound like you are not particulary getting nightmares etc.. but you may find that they come. One thing that helped me personally with this part was framing it as my mind processing what it couldn't face in the day and beginning to move me on.

Time does help.. even with the most agonising shit. I'm not sure all things do/can/should (?) go away, but somehow we learn to live with them and not feel quite as raw or defined by the enormity of the experience. Try and practice good self care and you may (or may not) find it helpful to spend some time with traumatised animals (there is a grwoing evidence base this can be effective for trauma survivors, but as your trauma relates to an animal i'm sure that's a very personal call...). Awful. Cyber hug.
posted by tanktop at 3:05 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow. I am so sorry for your loss and that you witnessed such a horrible thing. I've written on Metafilter about how I witnessed a cat die horribly in traffic and it really tore me up and I obsessed over it and really could not get that poor creature's panic and suffering out of my mind. I have never witnessed anything more horrible, and what you went through was far far worse.

Have you considered asking your physician for a Xanax (or similar) prescription? If you had witnessed your child die you would almost certainly receive an anti-anxiety prescription and I think seeing a beloved pet die is in the same neighborhood of awfulness and trauma.
posted by jayder at 4:29 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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