GRIEVING THE LOSS OF A PET
Grief is the normal response to any important
loss in life. It occurs regardless of whether death followed a
prolonged illness, or a sudden accident. Grieving people experience
both physical and emotional traumas as they try to adapt to the
upheaval in their lives brought about by the loss.
Psychologists have long recognized that the grief
suffered by pet owners after their pet dies is the same as that
experienced after the death of a person. The death of a pet means the
loss of a non-judgmental love source. There is no longer anything for
the pet owner to nurture and care for. Furthermore, the owner looses
his or her contact with "the natural world." These feelings can be
particularly intense for the elderly, single people and childless
couples,( for whom the pet also is a child substitute).
THE STAGES OF GRIEF
In truth, the process of grief is not a cut and
dried process that can be subdivided into strict categories. Rather,
the grief process is a continuum, with each person experiencing it in
a different way. Dividing the grief process in to "stages" helps the
grief stricken person to understand that their experiences and
emotions are normal. Some people will quickly progress through all the
phases, while others appear to get "stuck" in a particular phase.
Briefly, the stages of grief are as follows:
1. SHOCK AND DENIAL
The reality of death has not yet been accepted by the
bereaved. He or she feels stunned and bewildered-as if everything is
The grief stricken person often lashes out at family,
friends, themselves, God, the Veterinarian or the world in general.
Bereaved people will also experience feelings of guilt or fear during
In this stage, the bereaved asks for a deal or reward
from either God, the Veterinarian or the Clergy. Comments like "I'll
go to Church every day, if only my pet will come back to me" are
Depression occurs as a reaction to the changed way of
life created by the loss. The bereaved person feels intensely sad,
hopeless, drained and helpless. The pet is missed and thought about
Acceptance comes when the changes brought upon the
person by the loss are stabilized into a new lifestyle.
The depth and intensity of the mourning process depends on many
factors. The age of the owner, circumstances surrounding the death,
relationship of the animal to the owner and to other family members,
are all significant. Recently experiencing the death of a significant
person in the owner's life can also affect how the pet's death is
handled. Usually, children recover more quickly, while the elderly
take the longest. Sometimes, the death of a pet will finally enable
the bereaved to mourn the loss of a person, whose death had not yet
PET LOSS AND CHILDREN
Many people do not realize how traumatic and
confusing death can be on a child. Although children tend to grieve
for shorter periods of time, their grief is no less intense than that
experienced by adults. Children also tend to come back to the subject
repeatedly; so extreme patience is required when dealing with the
grieving child. Some helpful tips for helping the grieving child
Should the owner let the surviving animals see
and smell their dead companion?
There is no evidence that doing so will help the surviving pet(s), but
some people claim that it does.
Usually, all it accomplishes is to make the owner feel better.
Therefore, if the owner wants to have the surviving pets "say
good-bye," then it should be allowed.
Given time, healing will occur for the bereaved
However, there are several things that the grief-stricken owner can do
to help speed up the healing process:
Give yourself permission to grieve.
-only YOU know what your pet meant to you.
Memorialize your pet.
- makes the loss real and helps with closure.
- allows the bereaved to express their feelings, pay tribute
- draws in social support.