Understanding Grief:  When a pet dies or is lost…


Society generally does not respond to pet owners who grieve after the death or loss of a pet with the same support and concern that is given when a (human) family member dies.  Not surprisingly,  pet owners often hide or minimize their feelings and do not tell bosses, friends, or even family what they are upset about.   “I couldn’t express my feelings to anyone because I thought that I was the only person who had ever grieved this deeply for a dog” is a common reaction.  Pet owners often feel embarrassed and even apologetic about their grief.  These are some of the things that make the death or loss of a pet especially difficult.

It is okay to cry

Grief is a natural, normal and automatic reaction we experience when someone we love dies or is no longer a part of our lives.  Many people describe their pets as important family members,  loyal companions,  confidantes,  protectors,  sources    of unconditional love and even as their perpetual “children” as pets are forever dependent on their owners for food, shelter, and love.  Considering all of these roles our pets have,  it becomes easier to understand why it hurts so much when a pet goes missing or dies.  One of the most important things that you can do when this happens is to give yourself permission to grieve for your pet.  Try to find someone you can share your feelings with and remember that it is okay to cry.


What can I expect?

Grieving has been described as being pushed on a roller coaster ride blindfolded.  There are unexpected ups and downs and one never really knows what will be around the next corner.  The grief process is unique for each person and will “take as long as it takes.”  Depending on personal characteristics and the nature of the loss experienced,  it is not unusual to experience waves of grief for 6 months to a year (or longer).  Grief can affect us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.  Please click on the “what might help if you are grieving” handout for some practical tips on coping with grief.  


       “When we lose something that was very precious to us,  whatever its nature,  we grieve.  Our grief may be short-lived sorrow or lead to a lengthy period of mourning.  The depth of our grief depends on the nature of the relationship that we had with what we have lost,  not on who or what the person or thing actually was.  We might grieve more for the loss of a dog or a cat than a person-  it simply depends on the relative contributions made by each to our physical and spiritual well-being…     I have deeply loved several dogs and grieved correspondingly deeply when they died.  Just a few weeks ago we lost Cider,  the dog who has shared our lives for the past thirteen years.  I hate the thought of walking where she and I walked together.  When I sit on “her couch” I feel a lump in my throat,  and when the doorbell rings,  and there are no fierce barks,  it is not easy to go and let the caller in.  I miss her snoring beside my bed at night.  I am not ashamed to weep for her,  as I wept for the other dogs who gave me so much.”        

-Jane Goodall (1998)


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