By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
The hardest part of owning a pet is when we realise our animals don't live forever. We live in such close proximity to our companions that pain felt by their loss is not only profound and sad, it can be utterly life changing. In my case, I've been fortunate to spend my life with a variety of marvellous pets and working dogs; unfortunately, this also means approximately ten animals have come and gone throughout the years.
Animal grief is another taboo topic I wish to address this week, for it's an extremely difficult period for animal lovers. People who grieve their pets often feel emotionally alone and sometimes disconnected from the rest of their entourage, especially if their family and friends are not pet lovers. Spouses, children, co-workers, and parents who don't share an emotional link with animals will often dismiss pet grief as an actual bereavement process.
Shameful Pet Loss
People who grieve the loss of an animal can feel sad and lost, and without support from their environment, these same people cry and scream in secrecy as they process their pain. Some people will be subject to expressions such as Don't cry, it's just a cat, Why don't you just get another dog, or my favourite You should be happy, you can now do what you want, when you want. Certain people are so ashamed of their emotions, they hide how they actually feel.
There's no shame in feeling isolation, loss, sadness, confusion, anger, or uncertainty when you grieve the loss of a beloved pet. Each person has a right to process difficult emotions and should feel comfortable to ask for support, especially from family and friends. So, how do we create empathy where there's very little to none? How can a person accept your pain as real and support you through the grieving process? If colleagues don't believe there's an emotional connection, how can they address the sadness you feel? Unfortunately, the answer is it's very difficult, not to say impossible, till they have felt an emotional connection themselves.
Where to Turn
Pet loss is as real as it gets and if you feel alone, sad, or confused here are a few tips.
1. Bereavement is OK. You're allowed to be sad and angry.
2. Grief comes in many shapes and forms.
3. There is no norm when it comes to rituals associated with pet loss.
4. Make sure you say goodbye any way you feel appropriate.
5. If you have other pets, make sure you're aware of their emotional state.
6. Wait till you've processed your emotions before you get another companion.
7. When ready, get a different breed of pet, it helps with closure.
Many of our clients have turned to us for help when they lost their companion; as such, we strongly encourage trainers and behaviour specialists to have a list of resources handy for these difficult times. Remember, people need to talk about their pets and feel they have been heard. Finally, if everybody could accept that loosing an animal is in fact painful, we would become a better society, because acceptance is the first step towards healing emotions.
Pet Loss Canada is a web site where you will find the following links:
- Goodbye and Beyond: A Workbook For Those Enduring the Loss of a Companion Animal pdf booklet
- When Your Pet Has Died - Alan Wolfelt
- You will always be a part of me - Timothy O’Brien - www.petlossgriefguide.com
- Is It Time to Say Goodbye - Timothy O’Brien - www.petlossgriefguide.com
- Pet Loss and Human Emotion - Cheri Barton Ross & Jane Sorenson
- When Your Pet Dies - Christine Adamec
- Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of a Pet - M. Anderson
- Grieving the Death of a Pet - Betty J. Carmack
- The Human-Animal Bond and Grief - Laurel S. Lagoni
- Diary of a Very Special Love - Martin S. Kosins
- Good-Bye My Friend: Grieving the Loss of a Pet - Herb & Mary Montgomery
- A Snowflake in My Hand - Samantha Mooney
- Animals Make Us Human - Temple Grandin
- Resilience - Elizabeth Edwards (NB: Paperback is written to current time)