“No matter how hard it is to have a puppy in your life, tearing up your pillows, creating mayhem in your house, ultimately that puppy will bring you the greatest treasure on planet earth, and that’s unconditional love”. (Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, Channel 4’s “The Supervet”, broadcast on 25/5/16)
Pets are family
Pets are regarded as important members of the family, and the attachment bonds between us and our beloved pets is openly acknowledged. Anyone who has ever owned a pet, or watched TV programmes such as The Supervet, will know that the bond between human and animal is rather special. Pets such as cats and dogs can be devoted companions, honest with their feelings towards us, and provide constant and unconditional love in a way that many may find hard to find amongst human friends and family.
There are many well-documented positive emotional, psychological and physical benefits that come from having a companion pet in our lives. Blood pressure levels, survival rates after heart attack, mental health issues, exercise rates, levels of loneliness, and much more, are positively attributed to us humans sharing our lives with a pet.
Losing a pet
So it should come as no surprise that we might feel utterly bereft and devastated when our pet dies. If you have just said goodbye to a pet who has been with you for 10 years then that is 10 years where you have spent every day considering the needs of your pet within your daily routine, and interacting with them in many positive ways. You are, of course, going to be grieving their loss.
The depth and intensity of the grief you experience may be a surprise to you, or it may be a much feared reality. Either way you will know that the death of your much loved pet feels exactly the same, and in some cases worse, than when you are grieving the death of a human. That’s because it is the same. It is the depth of the attachment or bond that will determine the intensity of our grieving, not whether we are grieving the loss of a pet or a human friend. Elsewhere on my website I talk about the experience of loss and bereavement from the perspective of human loss. To understand the feelings you may be experiencing I would encourage you to read this article.
Misunderstandings around pet bereavement
What can be particularly difficult for pet owners is the reaction of others. Hopefully you have people in your life that acknowledge and value your grief. However, you may also know people who take the view that ‘it’s only a dog/cat; you can get another’. Pet bereavement is now understood to be ‘disenfranchised grief’ which is grief which is not readily acknowledged or validated by others, and which can make public grieving and getting support harder to do.