Yesterday, I had to make the decision to have the vet put my “Thunder Buddy” to sleep and I am devastated! He was almost twelve, a white Bichon Frise named Rabbit. My late mother had given him to me as a Christmas gift. I have lost friends and family; yet, this is much more painful!
Researchers have known for decades that the bond between humans and animals is strong. There was a study in 1988 in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling where dog owners were asked to rate how close friends, family, and their dogs were in their lives. The test-subjects tended to put their dog as the closest in their lives.
Another study in 1988 by the Center for Hunan-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University concluded that the difference in relationships with pets is that the pet provided constant companionship and there was total dependency; that explains the intense grieving with the loss of a pet.
When we have a pet, we spend many hours taking care of them and the rituals that developed between us on a daily basis. We rearrange our life for our pets! The hole that is left when a pet dies, totally rearranges our lives again. We look for the daily ritual that we are used to and it simply is no longer a part of our day.
The ease of nonjudgmental, unconditional love that pets give to humans, and the fact that they are just happy to be with us, makes it harder to lose them. It can be more difficult for those who are single to lose a pet because their pet can ease any loneliness in their life.
Because our pets are so dependent on us and they can’t communicate exactly what is going on with them, we tend to second guess our own actions and feel guilt. We ask ourselves questions: Did I do everything I could do? Should I have taken him to the vet sooner? Should I have seen the signs sooner? Did I make the right decision? Some friends and family are sympathetic and some don’t seem to be, probably because they are in denial about the idea of losing their own pet or not wanting to stir painful memories of a pet they have already lost.
The worst type of reaction is when someone says, “He was just a dog!” This type of person has no idea what it is like to have a bond with a pet. They probably should not ever have a pet because they will not know how to treat it properly. They mean well; it’s just ignorance at best.
When a pet passes, there is no funeral, no time off to grieve, for those who are religious, where does your pet go when they pass? Lack of communication makes things harder, you want to comfort your pet, but you can’t explain things. People will say, “When are you getting another dog” That should not be a decision made when a person is mourning.
When a human being faces the death of a loved one they must go through the process or stages of grief. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is no set order, the grieving process is unique to each individual; it involves body, mind, and spirit. Going through the grieving process can be exhausting, confusing, painful, numbing, and emotional. Grief is misunderstood, isolating, and transformative.
Most of us avoid talking about death out of fear. When it happens, we tend to isolate because most people don’t understand what we are feeling. The key is to make a connection with others who understand what you are feeling when you lose a pet. Relationships with pets transform us both in life and death, we become better people because of these relationships.
Some of the effects of grief that you may experience are crying, sobbing, nausea, stomach ache, lump in your throat, tightness in chest, fatigue, exhaustion, lack of appetite, lack of sleep, body pain, confusion, can’t concentrate, preoccupation about pet that has passed, depression, sadness, guilt, anxiety, self-doubt, loneliness, overwhelmed, feeling isolated, and relief. There are many other effects of grief, these are just a few examples.
Pet owners who lose pets can find creative ways of coping with such difficult losses. They can have memorial services with close friends and family who understand the loss, a tribute party in memory of the pet, a scrapbook of the pet, writing a poem about the pet, donating to a pet rescue in the pet’s name, join a pet grief group, volunteer at a shelter or rescue, do something in your pet’s memory, meet with a counselor who specializes in pet loss.
The grieving process takes time and everyone is different. You can’t rush grief. You have to go through it, but you don’t have to go through it alone. I will miss my pal, Rabbit, but I will never forget him.