A Different Grief: Coping with Pet Loss
Are you anticipating or mourning the loss of your pet, and surprised
and even overwhelmed at the depth of your grief?
The lessons in this course
are designed both to help you understand and cope with the grief of losing your pet,
and to guide you towards meaningful growth, healing and inspiration. Come to a better
understanding of the emotional upheaval caused by the shock, disbelief, anger,
guilt and sorrow that are commonly experienced when a beloved pet is lost. Learn
meaningful ways to memorialize your faithful friend. You deserve to feel comforted,
understood and acknowledged as a person in grief, and reassurance that you are
normal and healthy in loving your faithful animal friend so deeply.
Coping with Pet Loss: "Am I Crazy to Feel So Sad about This?"
By Marty Tousley
You've just learned that your family's beloved pet is terminally ill. The vet gives your
cherished companion less than a month to live! As the sad reality of losing this important member
of your family sets in, a million thoughts race through your head.
Whether struggling with an animal companion's chronic illness, facing a decision about euthanasia,
or mourning the loss of a cherished pet, most animal lovers are shocked and overwhelmed by the
intensity of their reactions. They wonder if it is normal to feel the loss of a companion animal
so deeply. Statements such as "I don't know what's wrong with me. I didn't feel this bad when my
grandmother (acquaintance, friend, relative) died" are common. If this is a family's first
encounter with death, parents may be uncertain how to guide their children through the experience
of losing a beloved pet.
As a bereavement counselor specializing in pet loss, over the last ten years I've counseled
numerous grieving animal lovers, both individually and in groups. I find that the questions I'm
asked most frequently are these:
Statistics indicate that companion animals are becoming more valued in our society than they were
just 20 or 30 years ago. More people in the United States today have pets than children, and most
animal lovers regard their pets as members of the family. How you will react to the death of your
own loyal companions depends largely on the part they've played in your daily life, the significance
of your relationships with them, and the strength of your attachments to them.
- Am I crazy to feel so sad (angry, guilty, depressed) about this?
- How do I cope with my feelings when my pet is lost or missing?
- Why didn't I feel this bad when one of my relatives or friends died?
- How can I help my child(ren) deal with the loss of a pet?
- How can I deal with the insensitive comments of others ("It was just an animal" or "You can always get another")?
- Do other animals in the household grieve? How can I help them?
- When there is no hope for recovery from illness or injury, should I choose euthanasia for my pet and, if so, how will I know when it's time?
- Should I be present during my pet's euthanasia?
- Do animals have souls, and do they go to Heaven? Will we be reunited someday?
- What should I do with my pet's remains after death?
- What can I do to memorialize my pet?
- Will I feel better if I get another pet right away?
- How long does grief last, and how long should I expect to feel this way?
- Should I be getting help with my grief, and what support is available to me?
- What should I do or say when my friend loses a pet?
Because the normal life span of most companion animals is so much shorter than your own, it is
predictable that one day you will experience the loss of a beloved pet. Since the emotional bonds
developed between people and animals can be very deep and strong, it's important to understand that
the pain experienced when those bonds are broken is real. The more significant the bond, the
greater the feeling of loss you can expect. The grief experienced is no different from that of
losing a cherished friend or special member of the family. It is a natural, spontaneous response
to the loss of a significant relationship.
Nevertheless, when you lose a cherished pet you may find yourself feeling embarrassed or uneasy
about publicly expressing your grief. Since there isn't much cultural support offered to grieving
animal lovers in our society, you may end up feeling very isolated and alone. Statements such as
"It was just an animal" illustrate how others fail to recognize this kind of loss as significant.
Your relationship with the animal may be trivialized by those "well meaning" folks who say, "You
can always get another." You may be left with the feeling that you don't have a legitimate right
to grieve. Not all those in your circle may be as understanding, as available or as capable of
helping as you need them to be. You may find that friends and relatives are finished with your
grief long before you are done with the work of it or the need to talk about it.
Is there anything you can do to help yourself through the grief that accompanies the loss of a beloved companion animal?
Yes! First, arm yourself (and those who care about you) with some knowledge and understanding about
the normal grief process. Learn what reactions you can expect in grief, and find out what can be
done to manage them.
It is also important to find an understanding, nonjudgmental listener with whom you can openly
acknowledge your feelings and experiences, express and work through your pain, and come to terms
with your loss. That can be a fellow animal lover who respects the relationship you had with your
pet, a spouse, family member, friend, neighbor, colleague at work, clergy person, pet loss counselor
or telephone help-line volunteer.
Finding a Safe Place to Express and Work through Your Feelings of Grief
Visit your public library, local bookstore or pet supply center and ask for information and
literature on pet loss and bereavement. You might ask your pet crematory or cemetery
representative, your local animal shelter, veterinarian or pet grooming specialist if they know
of any pet loss services in your community -- or even if they know of any recently bereaved
clients who may be willing to talk with you. Look for pet loss services (such as pet loss
support groups) advertised in your Yellow Pages or local newspaper, or posted on bulletin boards
in your grocery store, library, church or school. Contact a pet loss telephone support help-line
(such as that offered by the Companion Animal Association of Arizona, at 602-995-5885).
Few of us are prepared to face the excruciating pain associated with the death of a beloved pet.
Most of us think we cannot bear it, that to feel such sorrow is abnormal, as if we're going mad.
We think there's something wrong with us, or something unnatural about our feelings.
- Using the keywords "pet loss" you can search the Internet for some wonderful pet loss sites, many of which offer chat rooms and message boards, in addition to information and referral to other helpful resources. I invite you to visit my own Web site at
- Gain knowledge by taking an email course on
or present such a course to that friend or relative who just doesn't seem to understand what you are experiencing.
Yet pain over the loss of an animal friend is as natural as the pain we would feel over the loss
of any significant relationship. Our pets offer us a kind of loyalty, devotion and unconditional
love that cannot be found in the more complicated relationships we have with relatives, friends and
neighbors. Arming ourselves with some knowledge and understanding of what is normal under such
circumstances and finding a safe place to express and work through our feelings of grief can help
us cope with -- and even grow from -- the agony of pet loss.
Support others coping with pet loss by forwarding this article to them.
Copyright © 2002 – 2010 Marty Tousley. All rights reserved. If you are interested in publishing this article, please email .