Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support and unconditional love. If you understand this connection between human and animal, then you understand that coping with loss and grief of a pet is no different than when a person you love dies. It’s natural for family and friends to express sorrow for your loss for a human, unfortunately, many people do not understand how important animals can be in people’s lives. Many people may not even understand why you are grieving over the loss of your pet.
People consider their pet as part of the family. They oftentimes will celebrate their pets’ birthdays, take pictures with them and include them in family activities.
The grieving process is as individual as the person, and can last for days and yet for another for years. The grieving process is very much the same as when losing a close family member or loved one. The Kubler-Ross model, otherwise known as the five stages of grief include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. You can experience all five stages and then begin the process from the beginning again. There is no timetable.
The loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death. The child may blame themselves, their parents, or the veterinarian for not saving the pet. Children may have feelings of depression, sadness and fear that other people they love may also be taken away from them. Trying to protect your child by saying their pet ran away can cause feeling of betrayal once they learn the truth. Expressing your own grief and allowing your child to grieve is a healthy way to approach the loss and the sadness. It is healthy to be able to talk about your pet and reminisce about all the happy times instead of avoiding the topic. Encourage your child to talk about your pet. You can prepare a memorial for your pet and have your child write a letter to their pet… it can be a cathartic experience for them.
Many people ask the question of whether they should replace their pet immediately. Rushing into this decision does not allow your child or other family members to experience the loss and sadness which is part of life. You will know when the right time is to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve.
Owning a pet provides many wonderful experiences including companionship, support and love. Pets have their own personalities and we grow to love them deeply. Do not allow others to minimize your loss when they say “it was just a pet”. Owning and caring for a pet takes a truly special individual. Take your time with your grief.
There are many wonderful pet-support groups and hotlines. If you find yourself unable to cope, you can seek counseling.