Our pets give us so much: they listen to our secrets, entertain us, and give us unconditional love. When we lose such an important piece of our lives, it’s often hard to get support because others may not understand why we are so upset about losing “just an animal.” But it’s not whether our loved one was a person or an animal that determines our “right” to be upset. It’s the quality of the relationship and the level of our love. So in addition to sadness, anger, guilt, and perhaps pain from previous losses, we also may feel isolated and all alone with our pain.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stage model is often applied for understanding grief reactions to pet loss:
- Denial and Isolation: refusing to accept the reality of the loss, e.g. carrying on as though a pet is not seriously ill, we may avoid talking about our pet’s illness or even not comply with important veterinary treatment to help manage symptoms; after the death of a pet some people may feel unable to part with their pet’s body for burial or cremation; sometimes people withdraw from meeting friends, family or going out.
- Anger: we may feel furious at our pet for dying, blame a family member or friend for the death or even feel hostile towards the veterinary teams that cared for our pet because they couldn’t make our pet better.
- Bargaining: this can involve making all kinds of compromises and “deals” in our heads as a perceived trade-off that we magically believe may prolong our pet’s life
- Depression: we can experience extreme sadness that prevents us from going about our daily tasks; if this is long-lasting it is a good idea to check out what is going on with your doctor, as pet bereavement can also evoke feelings of grief from other, past losses in our lives.
- Acceptance: this involves feeling more comfortable remembering good times with a pet and having thoughts of possibly investing in a relationship with a new pet or becoming involved in pet-related activities such as volunteering as a cat socialiser or dog walker at a local animal re-homing center.
If you have lost a special pet, you deserve support. There are issues unique to pet loss that do not exist with other types of losses. Facing the grief all alone can seem overwhelming. But the good news is that with the right support, you can navigate through the feelings and tasks of grieving and readjusting, and, in time, it does get better.
I provide compassionate counseling in a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental atmosphere. I help clients understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual reactions to their grief, learn to practice self-care as they mourn their loss, and honor their pet during the healing process.