“It’s just a dog”, why do you feel so sad? This may be the reaction from someone who has never owned a pet and felt the deep grief when a beloved pet dies. Those who own pets know how deeply they can affect us. Mourning the loss of a pet is often as severe as the loss of a relative. They are our friends and family members.
For pet owners, it is more than “just a dog” or “just a cat”. Pets of all species are a source of unconditional love and acceptance. They bring joy to our hearts with the wag of their tail or soft purr in our ear. In modern life pets are seen as part of the family, sometimes more loved than the human members.
We share their antics on social media, buy them cute Halloween costumes and worry about their diets, just like we do our children.
We Look Into Their Eyes, And They Look Into Our Souls
Their death is devastating, it is a loss of an unconditional source of love and companionship. It creates a huge hole in our hearts.
Unfortunately, our cultural norms of grieving for loving pets have not evolved at the same rate as the role of companion animals in our families and our society. There are no cultural rituals that help us move through the grieving process, no notices in the paper, no memorial services. When a human member of the family dies, we are allowed time off from work. Friends and acquaintances gather to send their condolences.
Not so much with the death of a pet. Usually, only our pet owning friends can even begin to understand the depth of our sadness.
Maybe if people realized how intense the connection can be between owners and their pets, grieving would be more accepted and moving through the process would be a bit smoother.
To Lose A Pet is Hard At Any Age
As children, our pets are our constant playmate, by our side in every adventure that we have. They are tolerant of afternoons of playing dress-up and accompany us through fjords and valleys in search of hidden treasures.
In our adult years, they provide unconditional love when we have had a hard day at work, or our kids are driving us crazy. Always happy to see us regardless of what is going on.
They provide an excuse to get out the walking or jogging shoes and see the neighborhood, explore the park and enjoy nature around us.
As senior citizens, they provide comforting companionship and ease the loneliness. At the ready to share a lap or enjoy a midday nap nestled by our side.
Coping With Pet Loss
There is no time limit on feeling sad – It is okay to feel the way you do. Everyone grieves differently, never judge yourself or others. It may take weeks or months. Just because your friend adopted another pet right away, does not mean that you must also.
You may also feel different types of emotions. Besides sadness and feelings of loss, you may also experience other emotions such as guilt. Telling yourself “If only I had….” won’t help anything. Just know that it is a normal emotion to feel after any kind of loss.
Seek Support – While dealing with your emotions is a personal thing, you do not need to be alone. There are many types of support available, including pet-bereavement, support hotlines, online pet loss support groups, books at the library or online and facebook groups.
Honor Your Pet – Remembering the fun you shared and creating a lasting memento can help you embrace your feelings and move through them. Have a memorial service, plant a special garden, make a photo album, frame and hang photos on the wall, these are just a few ideas to help you honor your pet.
Grief Is Not Permanent – Have faith that eventually you will come to terms with the loss of your beloved pet. Each passing day will get a bit easier. Acceptance of your pets death will be a little less painful as time moves on. “Time heals all wounds”. Though uncomfortable feelings of denial, guilt or depression may appear, eventually they will fade and be replaced with memories of the happy times you shared.
When it is time for you, think of getting a new pet. True that no other animal will ever have the personality and character that your past pet had, so it may be hard to open your heart to the thought.
But each has their own unique personality and unconditional love to share. There are so many dogs, cats and other species in need of a loving home, just like you can provide.
Think about visiting your local shelter. You may find your next soul mate just waiting to fill that void in your life and your heart.