In last few decades a tremendous growth of interest and concern about the human-animal bond has occured. Because of this there has developed a much greater understanding of the nature, strength and significance of the bond that develops between humans and their non-human companions. Today it is not uncommon for owners to perceive their pet as “a friend” or as “member of the family”. We now know that the extent of emotional attachment a person can develop for his or her pet goes far beyond what we once thought. As we learn more about the extent of this human-animal bond we begin to understand how the death of a special animal companion can produce feelings of loss that were previously thought to occur only when people die. A pet owner that grieves and mourns the death of a beloved pet should no longer be considered confused or neurotic. Openly grieving the loss of a close relationship whether it be with a human or animal is a very healthy but often difficult thing to do. People in the process of grieving for their pet need the full understanding, encouragement, and emotional support of their friends, family and veterinarian.
Death in any form is a difficult issue — one that is often avoided and ignored. For some people, an owner’s reaction to the death of a pet is seen as childish, stupid, even crazy. These same people do not accept mourning for a pet as legitimate and necessary. The lack of understanding and acceptance these people show for the grieving pet owner often suppresses mourning and inhibits the healing that comes with the expression of open public grief. It is very important for people who are not animal lovers to understand that a close relationship with a pet is really no different nor less valid than a close relationship with a human being. Pets more often than not are a member of the family. They serve as friends, confidants and companion. And that is why the loss of a beloved pet brings on very predictable stages of grief although each person grieves in their own unique way. Natural phases of the grieving process include:
Accepting the death of a pet that is a dear friend is one the most difficult things a person must do in their life. Consequently it is not surprising that in the face of such a loss the pets caregiver will want to deny the truth.
As the reality of the loss becomes real, anger most often surfaces and is directed toward friends, family members caregivers, their veterinarian and others. It not unusual for people to strike out verbally and say things they don’t mean. Others experience anger differently and turn it inward. These people may feel guilty because they believe they should have done more or have done something differently. Most often this is not true and only serves to make it more difficult for the person to cope.
This is usually the longest stage of the grieving process. During this stage family members may feel empty and alone as they see themselves facing life without their best friend. If the affected person does not receive adequate support from friends and family he or she may become depressed and that will affect many aspects of their life. These people may benefit from pet loss support groups or professional counseling.
In this final stage of grieving people begin to return to a more normal life. While they wish their pet were still with them they accept their death and move on. They cherish the fond memories they have of their pet.