The objective of this article is to help people know what to expect over the loss of a beloved pet.
By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
Summary: Intense grief over the loss of a pet is completely normal. Yet, some people feel guilt over the incredible loss that they feel and don’t internalize the concept that “pets are people, too.” This article discusses feelings that accompany the loss of a pet.
Everyone who has ever owned a pet who was a part of the family goes through incredible grief over their loss. It is not overly sentimental, weak, or foolish to be heartbroken. Think of the alternative–what would happen if nature’s way was for our pets to outlive us habitually?
You may have spent l0 or l5 years with your pet. During that time your pet was always present–providing companionship and comfort. Pets provide unconditional love. It is a very powerful relationship for however long or brief. When it ends, the repercussions can be overwhelming.
There are people who are not close to animals who won’t understand your grief. That doesn’t matter–you don’t need permission or approval to grieve. Your feelings are valid and many people have them and go through them regularly as they go through the cycles of owning new pets.
Different people experience grief in different ways. Besides sorrow and loss, you may experience guilt, anger, denial, and depression.
Guilt may come if you feel somehow responsible for your pet’s death. Guilt is only useful if it lasts for five minutes and leads to change. It will impede your healing. Use any guilt you feel to make a change for the next time–then let go of it.
Denial is difficulty accepting the loss. Some of this is natural. Some people find it difficult to bring a new pet home for fear of violating the memory of the old pet.
Anger may be directed at whatever killed your pet. Sometimes anger propels us into motion to do something different. Most of the time it distracts people from working through their grief.
Depression is a natural consequence of grief but left unchecked it can leave you powerless to cope with your feelings. Extreme depression robs people of motivation, even the desire to get up in the morning. Dwelling on sorrow without a resolution only makes a painful trap of bitterness.
In dealing with your loss you must be honest about what you feel. Give yourself permission to have the feelings. This is a loss like any other. Express your feelings–scream, cry, punch a punching bag, talk it out. Some people try to avoid the grief. This just deepens it. Reminisce about the good times–as you do this think about your pet–who he was to you. Understanding his role in your life will help you identify and express feelings. Write letters, stories, or poems. “Marley and Me” was written in just this way by a newspaper reporter who had lost his pet.
Other coping skills include rearranging your schedule to fill the times that you spent with your pet, keeping a favorite photo close, and preparing a physical memorial.
Find people that you can talk with who understand the bonds between animals and people. If you don’t know anyone, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a counselor, ask at your church or local hospital for grief counseling. Seek out other people in your community who are involved with pets, such as members of a local dog or cat club. Many pet trainers offer grief counseling so check your local directory.