Losing a pet is difficult. Pets are family and losing one can make anyone struggle. This is true especially during the pandemic as individuals suffer the loss of pets. Individuals are home more and because of this the loss of a pet can even sting more. To many, during covid, the pet may be their only companion they see everyday.
The article, “9 Tips for Grieving the Loss of a Pet During the Pandemic, According to a Grief Specialist” by Erin Bunch looks at how individuals can better cope with the loss of a pet. The article states,
“And since pets tend to provide their owners with unconditional comfort and emotional support, their passing can leave a significant hole in our lives. Add this factor to the reality that many are spending more time at home with their pets than ever before due to COVID-19 safety measures, and the exacerbated sense of loss for those whose pets have died during the pandemic is much clearer.”
Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Pet Loss Grief Support.
Saying farewell to a pet is one of the most difficult things. It involves making the decision if a pet is able to live comfortably. It takes understanding that the terminal condition has finally become too much for the beloved pet. It takes sacrifice to say good bye for the better good. There is a long process in this grief process that starts from the decision and continues well after the final goodbyes.
The article, “How to Say Goodbye to Your Pet” by Kyle Ramond Fitzpatrick looks at this difficult but humane choice of love. He states,
“When there’s an emergency or when an animal is suffering from an incurable issue, he says, making the choice to end an animal’s life is obvious. When the situation is more nebulous, like having a senior pet, one should wait for them to “tell you” when the negatives outweigh the positives of their life.”
Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Program. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification. Please review the program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.
Pet loss is a disenfranchised loss. This means many do not acknowledge it or give the loss or people experiencing the loss the respect and time it needs. People can be ridiculed or left behind in the grieving process because others place little value on the loss of a pet. Common phrases such as “its just a dog” or “at least it was not a family member” and “why are you still upset over a cat” are all insensitive comments, pet owners deal with.
Losing a pet is a very subjective experience though. To some, it may not be a big deal, while others it may be a life altering loss. Whether paws or fins, feathers or scales, the loss of a pet can be small or big to certain people. While we naturally conceive dogs, cats and horses as the most common losses, losing smaller pets can also be painful. While these smaller pets may not be able to form the emotional bond a dog can, certain individuals still form bonds. Maybe the fish was a last reminder of a departed spouse, or the small hamster was a gift of a departed parent. These attached meanings to smaller animals also play roles in how a person may subjectively grieve.
Still even so, one may have a fish for years upon years and live a very lonely life. The loss of that simple fish, albeit, it is unable to reciprocally return love, still represents a major aspect of that person’s life. So we cannot limit loss or dismiss it. We must acknowledge it and respect it.
Is there a chance of pathological reaction to a loss of a smaller pet that is out of touch to reality? It is possible, but there is a chance for pathological reaction to any loss, whether human or otherwise. So it is important to acknowledge even the smallest loss and reassess the person’s progress through it. Normally a loss of a hamster, or fish, may take a few days or week, but again, to some, this pet may have extra intrinsic value based on the person’s subjective situation.
Obviously, the wagging of a tail and bark to greet you at home will normally have greater loss reaction. The loss of a dog, cat or horse USUALLY affects a person longer than a loss of a small pet, as a fish, or hamster. These losses have a more reciprocal bond because of the animal’s higher intelligence. AGAIN, this does not mean we can assume based on reciprocity of love and intelligence of an animal that a loss will be less or more, but it does give one a general consensus that most individuals will grieve the loss of these pets more than a smaller creature of less intelligence and emotional capacity to bond with a person.
A loss of a cat, dog or horse can be as painful as losing a family member for some. A lonely old person may grieve the loss of a cat more than a family member he never sees. A family may grieve the loss of a family dog that played a part in all activities. These are not just mere animals but beloved friends and family that may not be human but beloved nonetheless. Many see these pets as their children and the loss can hurt as much as losing a child.
Grief Counselors need to teach and educate that pet loss is a real loss. They need to help others and show sympathy to those who will not receive it from others over the loss. They need to acknowledge the loss of their clients pet loss and help them cope through it. These losses are not to be minimized or lessened or ignored, but to be acknowledged and accepted as true and impactful losses
If you would like to learn more about Pet Loss then please review AICHP’S Pet Loss Grief Support Program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals.
Saying farewell to a pet is a difficult thing. It is a painful moment when you finally say goodbye to a loved one. In saying farewell, it should be done like anyone else we love. Rituals and traditions can help ease the pain.
The article, “How to farewell your pet if you can’t be there when they die” by Rachel Edwards discusses how one can ease the pain of losing a pet through ritual and tradition. She states,
“Linda Michie is a registered counsellor for people experiencing the gamut of life — including the death of pets. She says many people feel guilty if they are not able to be with their pets at the end, thinking they should be there right to the last moment. “I remind them that they gave their pets such a great life and that without great love there is no great loss,” she says. Linda works with people to find a solution to not being able to be present for a pet’s death. These are her suggestions.”
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.