Children and their experience with loss usually begins with the death of a pet. Helping a child understand the finality of death but also allowing the child to express grief is key to this learning process, albeit, as painful as it may be to the entire family.
The article, “How to deal with the death of a pet when you have kids” by Mel Ritterman looks at this difficult and painful process. He states,
“Having to say goodbye to your dog is like losing a family member and your best friend all in one. It’s heartbreaking and so incredibly emotional. Then throw kids into the mix and it is just so much harder. How do you explain this to your children? How do you grieve when you have to be the parent? How do we explain death to kids?”
Pet loss and children enter into types of loss. One the loss of a pet and second the particular loss from the view of a child. These things make the loss no easier and require parents and caregivers to mourn but also teach their children the nature of loss in life.
Mourning loved ones is natural and dogs are no different. Losing dogs are painful. Life can be a series of dogs and each dog has a special place and time in our heart. It does not get easier losing a loved one. Some individuals may only have one dog their whole life because they are two heart broken. How we mourn our dogs is important. It is important to understand that it is natural and fine to miss our dogs and cry over them.
The article, “Mourning Our Dogs The death of a much-loved dog is sometimes followed by regrets and self-doubt.” by Scott Janssen looks at how we can better mourn our dogs. He states,
“When we lose a canine companion, self-critical thoughts and feelings may become a part of our grief. We may disproportionally focus on our perceived failures and imperfections rather than view our actions as those of someone doing her or his best to stand by a canine loved one during painful circumstances. This is known as “moral pain,” and fortunately, there are things we can do to relieve it.”
Pets are family to many people. To some, they are the only family. They are blessings and companions from God. The innocence and unconditional love of a dog, cat or horse, or even smaller mammal is unargued. While pets with more intelligence are able to express love more, individuals still form bonds with even animals with less intelligence. This does not lessen the blow when an animal we love dies. It is not something to be downgrade or be embarrassed about but a bond that should be acknowledged and respected in grief.
The article, “Kevin McClintock: ‘We mourn our pets like a part of our family'” Looks at the value of pets in one’s life. He states,
“Of course, when we lose a beloved pet, our thoughts often turn to the afterlife — at least mine do. I wonder where they’re at and what they do up there in the mists, waiting for their “humans” to come up there to be with them forever. ”
Pets are family to many and individuals grieving the loss of family deserve respect in their grief. Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.
What on an emotional scale is the value of your dog to you? What financial number would you place on your dog’s life? While many place the love they have for their dog equal to a human, courts have different views. Many love their dogs so much they will spend thousands to save him or her despite the low monetary values courts put in lawsuit cases.
Other things to consider is how long you have had the dog. Individuals tend to put less stock in a dog they may have just bought or found. Again with everything in life, love and grief are associated with attachment and bonds. The stronger the bond, the stronger the love and consequently loss and grief.
The article, “A dog’s life :La Follette School researcher puts a number on man’s best friend” by AARON R. CONKLIN looks to understand how individuals differently value their dog’s life. He states,
“If you’re like most pet owners, the quick and easy answer is “priceless.” But in regulation and the courts, that sort of vague, emotion-based response doesn’t go especially far. Until recently, neither venue had any science-based estimate of dollar value pet owners implicitly place on the lives of their pets when they make decisions that affect their pets’ mortality risks. ”
So what value would you put on your dog’s life considering, he or she is young and been part of your life long enough to form a concrete bond? Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training Program and see if you qualify to earn a certification in this field.
Children have a hard time understanding death depending on how young they are. Some children do not see death as permanent. It takes time for them to fully comprehend that once something or someone dies they do not come back. Pets because of shorter life spans teach children the circle of life faster than a family death.
Children learn about death from a simple goldfish to the more painful loss of a dog or a cat. They are able to learn the nature of death and how to grieve. Pets teach children so many things and death is among one of the most important life lessons a pet can give a child.
The article, “Kids and Pets: A Winning Combination” by Diane Morrow-Kondos looks at kids and pets and what can be gained by having one. She states,
“This is a nice way to say children experience death through the loss of pets. Having a pet teaches children about the cycle of life from birth through death. Yes, it is heartbreaking to see your beloved pets die, but we learn that all creatures, including humans, eventually pass.”
From responsibility to learning empathy, the importance of animals in the lives of children is critical. Death is no less an important lesson in life. It breaks the heart because loss and love are so interwoven. Loving an animal and grieving an animal is essential to understanding life itself. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.
Excellent article from Chris Haws on the disenfranchised grief pet owners experience. Pets are family and loss itself is not dependent upon one has two legs or four. Pet loss is something that can be as traumatic as family loss. Pets for some are as close as family. Chris Haws below discusses how this loss needs to be acknowledged.
“He was only a dog …”
“He was only a dog – it’s not as if a real person died”; “You knew this day would come – cats don’t live forever”; “You can always get another pet – move on”.
Unfortunately, too many of the attendees at the pet loss support groups that I conduct report that they have encountered sentiments like these while grieving over the loss of a beloved animal companion. Generally, such insensitive and unhelpful statements are made by people who have not known the unique, enriching and profound nature of the relationship we have with our pets.
“They just don’t get it”, said one grieving Miniature Schnauzer owner.
“… And that’s their misfortune”, added her neighbor at the table – a cat owner.
They were both right – and in more ways than you might at first imagine. Numerous studies have shown that not only do people enjoy a wide range of positive emotional benefits from their pets, (the Comfort from Companion Animals Scale – the CCAS – lists over a dozen, including companionship , pleasure , play, laughter , constancy , something to love, comfort , feeling loved , responsibility , feeling needed , trust , safety , and exercise), but pet owners also tend to live longer than non-pet owners and report fewer visits to physicians, psychiatrists and therapists.
So why the disconnect when a person is grieving over the loss of their pet? Part of the answer lies in the fact that society at large doesn’t always cope very well with certain types of grief. People aren’t sure what to say or how to behave. Death is never a comfortable topic, but when that death involves “socially delicate” circumstances such as suicide, drug overdose, abortion, AIDS, or any other loss that cannot be easily acknowledged, or publicly mourned, it can provoke what is described as “Disenfranchised Grief”.
And that’s what can occur when someone loses a pet – (“only an animal”, and “not a real person”, remember?)
The owner of a recently euthanized 13 year old Boxer/Bloodhound mix is a busy wife and mother, who also holds down a full-time job. Of her family, and her grief, she remarked: “They don’t want me to cry in front of them, and no one will talk about my pain”.
It’s a sentiment that is frequently expressed: “I can’t stop crying. My husband gets angry with me. I know he’s sad too, but he just won’t show it” noted an elderly lady, grieving the loss of the couple’s treasured cat.
And, of course, that additional, unwelcome, experience of “disenfranchisement” only makes an already sad situation worse, as the grieving Miniature Schnauzer owner ruefully observed: “Everybody has moved on like it was just yesterday’s news. I’m not expecting everybody to feel as I do, but to be so utterly deserted has been tough. I was literally told that I would just have to get over it. Right….Just take twelve and a half years and move on….Sure, I’ll get right on that.”
The point is that pet loss generates a degree of grief that can be every bit as acute as human loss. Some go even further… “These have been the worst days of my life. For me, this is worse than losing people”, wrote one grieving Pomeranian owner. She is not alone. Many of the attendees at the pet loss support group sessions have expressed the same view. Grief from pet loss hurts. A lot.
And, of course, grief from pet loss is also an equal opportunity emotion. Our session attendees have included high ranking military officers, diplomats, corporate executives, and professional artists, as well as normal mortals like you and me. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. There are a lot of us pet owners around. Sixty-eight percent of all U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. 73% of those families own one or more dogs (89.7 million) and 49% own one or more cats (94.2 million). And the sad – and significant – fact is that no pet lives forever. The mean age of death for dogs of all breeds is just over eleven years, (curiously, the larger breeds die much younger than the small breeds – scientists aren’t quite sure why that should be), and for house cats the mean age at death is just over fifteen years. So pet ownership is almost certain to lead to loss, at some point in time. Most of us understand that reality, although we don’t like to dwell too much on it. And the benefits (remember that Comfort from Companion Animals Scale, the CCAS?) of pet ownership are so compelling.
So the relatively short lifespan of a pet also brings its own unique challenge. The relationship that we have with our animal companions is beyond special – a two way dependency that is based on an unspoken agreement that we will look after each other, with no questions asked. But at the end of a pet’s life, that understanding can be tested in a way that has yet to present itself in the realm of human mortality (although it may one day). I’m talking, of course, about euthanasia. A large animal hospital such as VCA South Paws “puts down” over 20 animals a week, (but only after extensive veterinary medical review and never without the full agreement and participation of the owner). Nevertheless, many of the attendees at the pet loss support sessions are still wracked with guilt about the decision they made to end their companion’s life. Might he have recovered? What else could have been done for her? Had they been too hasty?
If it’s any consolation, in every case I’ve encountered, not only had the time truly come to end the animal’s pain or suffering, but in many cases the creature seemed ready and willing to stop battling on, as well.
“He was ready to go”, observed the owners of their cancer ridden, Irish Setter. “She was suffering and I needed to help my best friend”, remembers the Boxer/Bloodhound owner. “There was nothing more anyone could do” agreed the heartbroken owner of his fourteen year old Yorkie.
That unfamiliar blend of resignation, relief and heartache is a difficult one to process and it takes a while for people to reconcile all those internal conflicts. And that’s where the grief support groups can play an important role. It really helps someone who is bursting with questions and doubts, on top of their inevitable grief, to hear others express similar feelings and emotions.
As one newcomer to the group remarked: “I was astonished to hear her talk about the same feelings I have, and the same behaviors I’m doing. Someone I’ve never met, not in my age group, probably with a completely different life than mine, doing the same things and feeling the exact same way as myself.”
Another “fellow-griever” agreed: “I was surprised that my reaction is NORMAL! It’s nice to speak to others that recognize those dark moments”.
As you might imagine, there’s a lot of sympathetic nodding and wry smiles of recognition at these meetings. We also get through a lot of Kleenex tissues. And that’s perfectly OK too. Like any grief counseling session, the participants are encouraged to talk openly about their feelings and express whatever emotion overwhelms them. Pet loss support groups are resolutely safe places … places where nobody is allowed to feel “disenfranchised”.
And there’s also a lot of laughter, as we hear about how Stan the cat defended his place on the family couch, or how Pippa the dog had a habit of herding the young children towards the meal table at supper time. These are precious memories, shared with people who understand.
People who “get it”.
Chris Haws is a British born Psychologist and Counselor based in Northwest DC who specializes in grief, loss, recovery, and personal development. For over three decades, his writing has appeared in print, radio and TV around the world.
Losing a pet, especially a dog is a big loss. People should not feel guilty in sharing their grief. The loss can be as painful as losing a family member and should not be shelved away or not discussed as secondary to a human life. This type of disenfranchisement can hurt individuals grieving their pet or dog. It does not permit them to grieve and discuss the loss and how it has affected their lives. It is important to recognize pet loss in a person’s life.
The article, “My Beloved Dog Just Died. I Don’t Know How To Grieve Without Feeling Guilty.” by Ann Gorewitz discusses her grief and guilt for grieving her pet. She states,
“Our pets’ lives have value ― they matter! ― even though society often trivializes our relationships with them. And though I feel like I’m not supposed to grieve Cassie’s death as intensely or profoundly as I do ― especially during a pandemic when so many other truly awful things are happening ― her life and the loss of it is momentous to me, and maybe more so because of COVID-19.”
Like any loss, life changes afterwards. It takes time to recover and adjust to the new normal. While this new normal may be painful, people learn to adjust and grow. Losing a pet is no different. Adjusting to not having the love and company of a pet can take months to heal and finally accept as a new and sad reality. Time heals but one never forgets the love of a dog that greets you at the door, or snuggling cat, or even a ride through the forest with a horse. They are not truly pets but companions and family.
The article, “Life after a pet’s death” from Manilia Standard Lifestyle looks at the steps to go through in adjusting to life without a beloved pet. The article states,
“Grieving is a highly personalized, individualistic experience that is influenced by culture and social groups. The process in which you might experience the pain of losing your pet might look immensely different from even a direct family member living in the same house, “ said Adam Clark, LCSW, in “7 Self-Care Essentials While Grieving the Death of a Pet” in Psychology Today.”
Grieving the loss of a pet is often considered non essential and can be disenfranchised. This leaves many grievers without recourse. They are left questioning their grief without any true support. The reality is the loss of a pet is a serious loss and needs to be validated and understood. Support for the loss of a pet is essential to anyone. Pets are family.
The article, “Grieving the Death of a Pet” by Chris Haws looks deeper at the nature of pet grief. He states,
“Like any grief counseling session, the participants are encouraged to talk openly about their feelings and express whatever emotion overwhelms them. Pet loss support groups are resolutely safe places … places where nobody is allowed to feel disenfranchised.”
It is important to accept pet loss grief as a normal grief equal to the loss of human companions. Pets for many are family. To dismiss the life of a pet or animal based on species is naive. It is wrong to assume that a connection between human and animal cannot exist. The bond is real and the love is equally real.
Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training can help prepare professionals to better aid individuals with the passing of a pet. Please review the program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.
Saying goodbye to a dog or for that matter any pet can be one of the most painful moments. Pets, especially dogs, cats and horses are more than mere objects we own, or things to watch but are actual family. They interact, share and enjoy life with us. Hence it is especially painful to lose one of our pets. Many would disenfranchise this loss as not important but this is farther from the truth.
A dog, cat or horse is family. They are far beyond a mere animal but someone we care about. There should never be any embarrassment or shame in grieving the loss of a pet that is our family. Those who do not understand the pain of losing a dog, cat or horse, are the ones who truly need to better understand life.
When the time comes to say goodbye, it will be painful, but one must be prepared for everyone eventually dies. This is part of the human condition.
The article, “Why Saying Goodbye to a Dog Is So Unbelievably Hard” by Jillian Blume looks at the particular loss of a dog and the intense pain that comes with losing a dog. She states,
“Humans can form intense emotional bonds with their dogs. In many ways, these bonds may be stronger and more enduring than our connection to most other human beings. And that’s why the idea of losing a beloved dog is something that pet parents try not to think about.”
Losing a dog is truly like losing family. The bond and love is as strong as family and always should be respected. If you would like to learn more about grief and pet loss then please review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.