The Right Way to Mourn Your Dearly Departed Pet Online

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Let us start by saying this: We love pets. We love our family pets, our friends' pets, the pets we creepily watch in the dog park because we live in a city apartment that's too small for a furry friend of our own — all pets. Pets are adorable, wonderful parts of our lives, and when their shorter life spans eventually come to an end, they deserve a proper burial and period of mourning.

Today, Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram) become the places where that mourning plays out. You know what we're talking about: the loving photo of Chichi the Chihuahua, paired with the page-long story detailing how he came into your life, how he always loved the first snowfall of winter, how he brought you so much joy (even when he misbehaved and caught that squirrel in the backyard), and how he tragically passed away, surrounded by his loved ones.

You're sad about Chichi. Now we're sad about Chichi. But we don't need to see a different version of this message on our news feed every day for the next month.

"People are so connected to their pets, but the thing pet lovers don't always consider is that not everyone feels the same way," says Peg Fitzpatrick, a social media strategist and co-author of The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users. "When you have emotional things like the death of a pet, it can be too much to see a lot of it online."

So, what is appropriate to share? Fitzpatrick advises you stick to one photo and a brief "in memoriam." Giving too much information about your pet's life (and death) and repeatedly posting about it can rub friends the wrong way. "Even though you have the ability to share every single thing these days, people still consider it oversharing if you give too many details," Fitzpatrick says.

Look to Gisele Bündchen for inspiration: After the supermodel's pup passed away in 2012, she took to Facebook with a sweet photo and caption that said, "My best friend, she will always live on in my heart. Let’s never take for granted the unconditional love that our animals show us every single day."

Reese Witherspoon also tugged at our heartstrings with a sweet tribute to Moonie, the Chihuahua who played the lovable Bruiser Woods in Legally Blonde, on her Instagram.

Also think about where you're posting — keep pet news to your personal channel. If Twitter and Instagram are public and open to work contacts and others, it's best to avoid sharing personal news on those networks, Fitzpatrick says.

The rules about what to do with a famous pet's Facebook or Instagram page get a little trickier. Some people, like the parents of Poh (@pohthedogsbigadventure), the beloved pup who survived kidney failure and went on to travel the country before passing away last month, continue to post shots commemorating the dearly deceased. Ultimately, the decision about what to do with the account is up to you. But, "if you have an Instagram or Facebook page for your pet, I think that you'd need to update the fans to let them know that they have passed away," Fitzpatrick says. Honesty is the best policy — don't pretend your pet is still alive (as much as you might want to).

If you're the one reading a sad post, Facebook's new reactions are a welcome way to share your condolences (no one wants to "Like" a post about Chichi's death). If you do decide to go a step further and leave a comment, keep it simple and stick to something basic: "I'm sad to hear about your loss and am thinking of you." You can always add a personal touch if you knew the animal.

When a friend overshares about their loss (or anything, for that matter), it can be a good idea to edit your news feed preferences so that you're not seeing Chichi on a regular basis. To do so on your phone, click "More" on the bottom right, scroll down to "Settings," and select "News Feed Preferences" to make edits to your feed.

If it's your loss, you can also head into the settings so Facebook doesn't remind you about this sad day a year or two from now. Just head to Facebook's "On This Day" page, and edit your preferences.

Remember: We're all sad about Chichi. But rehashing his death over and over again on Facebook isn't going to help anyone move on.

Update: This piece was updated on 3/11 with news of Legally Blonde's Chihuahua, Moonie, passing.
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