Chris Haws Article on Pet Loss

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.

Pets are integral parts of people’s lives. Losing a pet is not a trivial thing for many people and needs to be acknowledged.

 

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.”

Chris Haws points out that counselors need to recognize the loss of a pet. Pithy sayings of “he was just a dog” or “at least it was not a person” are bad statements. The loss needs to be acknowledged.

 

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”.

Counseling must accept all grief loss and recognize the loss as unique and important to the griever.

 

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. 

Contact: chris@telegrief.com

 

 

Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program

 

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Certification Article on Pet Grief and Guilt

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.

Losing a pet, cat or dog is a big loss. It is like losing family. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your professional goals

 

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.”

To read the entire article, please click here

Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.

Pet Loss Grief Recovery Article on Adjusting to the Loss of a Pet

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.

Life after the loss of a pet is never the same. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training Program

 

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.”

To read the entire article, please click here

Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.

 

 

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training Article on Pet Loss

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.

It is natural and normal to grieve the loss of a pet. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training and see if it meets your professional goals

 

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.”

To read the entire article, please click here

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.

 

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program Article on Losing a Dog

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.

Losing a dog can be very painful and as devastating as losing a family member. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program

 

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.”

To read the entire article, please click here

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.

 

 

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program Article on Pets as Family

The loss of a pet, especially a dog, cat or horse can be a very painful thing.  Even the loss of smaller pets depending on the circumstances can leave a lasting void.  The loss of a dog or cat or horse can play be for some as painful as losing family.  While some individuals see animals as tools or objects to an end, many form lasting bonds with their fury friends.  These bonds are family bonds.  This is especially true for the family dog or cat.  For those with these types of bonds and situations, the loss is as painful as losing a human friend or family member.

Pets are family. They play a key role in the dynamics of family life. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling program

 

The article, “Losing a Pet Is as Painful as Losing a Human” by Ashley Laderer looks at why it is so painful to lose a pet and what to expect.  She states,

“Many people develop deep bonds with their pets. According to a 2018 survey, 72% of Americans consider their pets to be family members, and research on pet loss throughout the years has consistently shown that the loss of a pet can feel as detrimental as the loss of a human family member.”

To read the entire article, please click here

Society may scoff at pet loss and certain individuals may downgrade the loss and not important but those are opinions.  Grief is based on the relation to the loss.  While subjective, the role of dogs and cats in the life of a family are important.  Seeing them as family members and missing them as family members when they are gone is not a stretch of absurdity but a true feeling of loss.  It needs to be seen as a true loss and respected

Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.

 

Pet Loss Grief Counselor Program Article on Pet Loss and Euthanasia

Sad article about the very uncomfortable and difficult decision to euthanize a pet.  Losing a pet is like losing a family member and deciding when to let to go can be in particular very painful.  There is always the guilt of letting go too soon and then also from the other extreme allowing one’s dog or cat or pet to suffer longer.  The goodbyes, the procedure, the drive home can all be very empty and sad.

The decision to say good bye to a dog or cat is never easy. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program and see if it meets your goals

Professionals can help navigate at the vet office, but there may also be need long after to discuss and cope with the dramatic loss of a pet.  The article, “Feelings of guilt, grief common when navigating euthanasia” by Shannon Mullane discusses the process and emotional navigation through this painful process.  She states,

“Americans spent $72 billion in 2018 on their pet companions, and research has shown the huge amount of grief owners can experience when the human-animal bond is broken at the time of a pet’s death. When it comes to euthanasia, that grief can be complicated by feelings of guilt, leaving pet owners in need of resources to navigate their loss.”

To read the entire article, please click here

Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counselor Program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Article on Pet Bereavement Time

The loss of a pet is a big loss.  For years and years, people downgraded this loss and acted as if it was just a pet.  People were told they are over reacting over a loss of a pet.  Now, society is seeing such losses as big losses to individuals.  Pets are like family and the bonds of love are just as strong.  With such discussions, some ask if pet bereavement time is needed from employment.  Should employers give an employee time away from work to properly grieve?

Saying good bye to a pet is like losing family for many. Pet bereavement is a possible need. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program

 

The article, “Can You Take An Extended Period Off Work After Your Pet Dies?” by Rebecca Reid looks closer at this.  She states,

“Mixed in with the sympathetic responses to Lorde’s loss were the voices of those who found her raw misery unpalatable, because it was felt for a pet, not a person. But grief is a strange, complicated thing. It’s entirely possible to feel nothing when someone who you ‘should’ feel sad about dies, and a huge amount at the loss of someone strange”

To read the entire article, please click here

Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.

 

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Training Article on a Grieving Dog

When our dogs are sad, we are sad.  Dogs are family and when a dog is not feeling well or is grieving the loss of another person or pet, then we naturally want to comfort our dog.  Dogs display emotion and sadness in different ways and we need to identify that grief and also be able to spark joy into their lives again.

What should you do when your dog is grieving? Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling training and see if it meets your needs

 

The article, “How to help a dog who is grieving the loss of a loved one” by Lisa Walden states,

“Dogs experiencing a loss can show signs of confusion, fear or depression. If it’s the loss of their owner, you may notice dogs trying to figure out where that person has gone. If it’s another pet who has passed away, your dog may spend more time in their bed or favorite places, often with the hope that their friend may return.”

To read the entire article, please click here

Pet Loss Grief Counseling Article and Losing a Dog

Losing a pet is not a minor thing in life.  A cat, dog, or horse is a long term companion.  To some, the pet is even family.  Learning to live without the pet is something harder to do than other people may imagine.

Losing a dog is like losing a family member to many. Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program

 

The article, “4 Things I Learned About Grief After My Dog Died” by Deanna Adams discusses the pains of losing a dog.  She states,

“Sometimes the death of a beloved pet comes suddenly and sometimes it’s expected.  It can be tragic, traumatic and devastating. The loss is keenly felt and lives often change abruptly. Many of us consider our pets to be family, not “just a dog,” or “just a cat.”  The death of a pet can hurt as much as the loss of a relative for some people”

To read the entire article please click here

Please also review our Pet Loss Grief Counseling Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals