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A Different Grief: Coping with Pet Loss

Lesson 1 - Pet Loss: An Introduction
By Marty Tousley

Moment of Reflection

Breathe deeply and relax... Relax your legs, arms, shoulders and facial muscles... Reflect on the following quote as you prepare for this healing journey.

"I have held the hands of friends as they died, baptized stillborn infants, helped families decide when to disconnect life-support systems and worked with parents whose children were murdered. Each of those experiences was painful. Nevertheless, at the moment my cat died, her loss was the very worst kind of grief for me in the whole world . . . Never apologize for grieving. Remind yourself as often as needed that the very worst kind of loss is always yours. Learn to acknowledge that your loss is worthy of grief . . ."

~ Bob Deits, author

Dear Friend,
  • Are you struggling with your pet's chronic or terminal illness, facing a decision about euthanasia, or mourning the loss of your cherished pet?

  • Are you surprised or even overwhelmed at the depth of your grief?

  • Do you feel isolated from others because they tell you "it's just a pet" and they don't understand how you feel?

  • Do you feel guilty because the grief you feel at the thought of losing your pet matches or even exceeds the sorrow you felt when one of your close friends or relatives died?

  • Is this a normal and healthy response?

If you are mourning or anticipating the loss of a cherished companion animal, you already know that you are in need of information, compassion and support. You deserve to feel comforted, understood and acknowledged as a person in grief, to be reassured that loving your animal so deeply is normal and healthy.

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 along the way on a path toward meaningful growth, healing and inspiration.

Why I did I write this course?

Although I've loved and lost a variety of pets over the years, it's only been in my adult years that I've come to realize and appreciate the enormous joy my companion animals have brought me.

It was the death of my very special little dog Muffin in 1986 that set me on my present course. I was astounded to find that I was totally unprepared for the whole experience - not only for my dog's sudden and unexpected death and what to do with his remains afterward, but also for the intensity of my reaction.

I wasn't unfamiliar with grief - by that time in my life I had already lost to death a newborn infant, my father, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and several close friends. In my practice as a therapist I had been studying death and dying and specializing in bereavement counseling for many years.

But it was the devastating death of this particular little creature - to whom I'd become so strongly attached - which made me realize how profound the loss of a beloved animal friend can be.

Understanding the Level of Attachment

Trying to sort through my feelings and better understand my own reaction, I began to investigate the nature of people's attachment to their animals, reading all I could find on the human-animal bond and learning about other people's reactions to the loss of their companion animals.

I soon came to realize how important it is to understand and respect the level of attachment between people and their terminally ill or deceased pets, the role the animals played in their lives, and the significance of the loss from their point of view.

Over time, I began to understand and accept my own profound loss and was able to find meaning in the midst of my grief. Today, my work with bereaved animal lovers combines my background in counseling with my respect for the bond people have with their animals, and my own experiences of healing from the loss of both human and animal loved ones.

Why do I refer to pet loss as "a Different Grief"?

When you lose a cherished pet, you may feel embarrassed or uneasy about expressing your grief. You may even be left with the feeling that you don't have a legitimate right to grieve.

Our culture simply isn't comfortable with the subject of death; few of us know how to cope with the pain of loss and grief in general, much less with that of losing a beloved pet. In our society, grieving over a pet is not generally accepted behavior. There isn't much support offered to grieving animal lovers, and you may feel very isolated and alone.

However well meaning their intent, some people may not recognize the closeness of your relationship with your pet or the significance of your loss, telling you that "it was just an animal" or "you can always get another."

When a pet dies, there are no formal and public rituals where sorrow and tears can be expressed and shared. Unlike what usually happens when a person dies, there is little opportunity either to talk about your loss or to receive empathy and support from others.

Even your religious beliefs may lead you to conclude that such pain over a dead pet is exaggerated or unjustified.

If you've had little or no experience with the grief that accompanies the loss of a beloved pet, you may be caught off-guard and feel totally unprepared to deal it when it happens to you.

Consider these Questions

  • Do you know what to expect in this grief of yours?

  • Are you wondering whether your reactions are normal?

  • Are you prepared for what lies ahead as you journey through this loss?

  • Is there anyone you can talk to about your loss?

  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed about the intensity of your grief?

  • Is your grief so profound that you can_t function?

Suggested Resources

Do you need additional guidance, support or information?
Click link(s) below to order, access or learn more about resource.

This lesson's suggested resources:

Radio Interview: Aspect of Pet Loss (((Audios)))
In this wide ranging interview, grief counselor Marty Tousley discusses various aspects of pet loss with Peternity's Colleen Mihelich. Colleen is the founder of Downloadable audios Here.

Site to Check out:

Need support?
Consider posting a message in the "Loss of a Pet Forum" at our Grief Healing Discussion Groups Site.

Closing Thoughts

Few of us are prepared to face the excruciating pain associated with the death of a beloved pet. You think you cannot bear it, that to feel such sorrow is abnormal, as if you're going mad. You may think there's something wrong with you, or something unnatural about your feelings.

Yet pain over the loss of an animal friend is as natural as the pain you would feel over the loss of any significant relationship. Your pets offer you a kind of loyalty, devotion and unconditional love that cannot be found in the more complicated relationships you have with relatives, friends and neighbors. Is it any wonder that you feel so devastated when all of that is gone?

When you're armed with some knowledge and understanding of the grief that accompanies the loss of a cherished companion animal, and know what reactions you can normally expect and how to manage them, you'll be able to face the weeks and months ahead more readily. This course is designed to help you do just that.

Next Lesson

In our next lesson, we declare your rights as a grieving animal lover.

Wishing you peace and healing, Marty and

Your Friends at Self-Healing Expressions

Course Number 4; Lesson Number 1

About this Author

Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC is a hospice bereavement counselor helping people find their way through grief following the death of a family member. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona as a bereavement counselor in 1996, and now serves as moderator for its online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, As a volunteer with the Halton-Peel Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada and the Pet Grief Support Service in Phoenix, AZ, she also works with bereaved animal lovers, both individually and in groups, and consults with veterinary clinics to foster greater understanding of pet loss among staff members, thereby building better helping relationships with grieving clients. A frequent contributor to healthcare journals, newsletters and magazines for the lay public, she has written several articles and book chapters in the professional nursing and medical literature, and has authored four publications addressing various aspects of loss and grief. Her award-winning Internet Web site, offers information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether human or animal. Marty can be reached via e-mail at

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