Pet Loss and Silent Grief

by Sheila C. Brown

Do you have a pet? Chances are that you do. Pets are considered as family members, whether it is a dog, cat or turtle. Pet owners share a strong bond with their pets. Just visit one of the pet store chains. Gone are the days when pet stores sold only pet food and the basic pet supplies. Now, there are Halloween costumes for pets, nail polish to pretty up the paws of your cat or dog, and a variety of pop-culture themed accessories for your aquarium. Your fish can enjoy swimming with Sponge Bob, and live in his pineapple house. New York City parks are filled with places for pooches to exercise and socialize with others of their kind.

Human bonds with pets have the same effects as human-to-human bonds do. They promote a sense of security, and have been shown to help relieve stress, symptoms of depression and alleviate anxiety. They also defend against loneliness providing companionship and, for some individuals, a sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, the day will come when you must face the death of your pet. The death of a pet can result in significant feelings of loss and grief, for both adults and children. Although our society provides human trimmings for our pets, there is scant recognition of the depth of the grieving that pet owners experience. When an individual loses a human family member or friend, there are rituals that are undertaken to mark the loss as significant and to validate the grieving process. Not so for pets. This overall lack of recognition by society makes it even more difficult for pet owners to grieve their loss. Pet owners experience the same grief response towards the death of a pet as they would a human loss. However, pet owners are often pressured to “get over” the death, and to just move on with life as if nothing happened. Ever try calling out from work due to the death of your dog? How about a child staying home from school for a few days because her ferret died? These would be accepted practices to grieve for a human friend or family member. But just try this with a pet. Most likely, you will not be granted a day off, and considered to be a flake. The truant officer (if there are such people) would be knocking on your door, looking for your child.  Grieving for a pet is just as natural and unflakey as grieving for a human companion. In spite of this, pet owners are not given permission to go public with their grief. As a result, the normal grieving process is not allowed to unfold, and may result in grief that is unresolved.

Destigmatizing the grieving process for pets would be a positive shift in our society. As a multiple pet owner, I understand how difficult it is to face the loss of our furry, scaly or feathered friends. If you are grieving the loss of your pet, or are coping with a sick pet, grief therapy can help.  I am here to provide an empathic ear, to listen, and provide support and comfort. The feelings of grief and loss that you are experiencing ARE normal, and I can help guide you through the process.  

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” ― John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog

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