Death of a Pet

Losing a Member of the Family

Dog owners often speak of how hard emotionally it is to lose a dog. Many say "I don't want another because I don't want to go through this loss and feelings again. I look at the loss of one of my beloved pets a little differently. I gave them love, safety, warmth, and the best care I could provide; they gave me unconditional love, joy, laughter, and sometimes tears. I would not trade the memories nor would I have wanted to miss those moments. I will love many animals in my lifetime and received love from them. I will hold dear each moment with them and in their final hour I will caress them, love them, and if necessary talk to them gently as they are eased quietly to their final sleep.

The last thing we can do for our loved ones-is to give them a dignified death and not prolong their pain and suffering. The following information may help understand the emotions encountered when a pet leaves us.(excerpts from a brochure from Alpo Foods)

We grieve over the death of a pet. This reaction is only natural. Our feelings towards dogs and pets are so special that experts have a term for the relationship: the human-companion animal bond. When this bond is severed, the sense of loss can be overwhelming.

Society does not offer a grieving pet owner a great deal of sympathy. Even a close friend may comment: "It's is only a dog. You can always get another." Such a reaction would be heartless given the loss of a human friend or family member, and it is generally recognized that a person who has experienced such a loss needs the support of friends and realtives. Psychologists now acknowledge that we need as much support-but get far less- with the loss of a companion animal.

When a dog dies, their is no social ritual to formalize the grief. Too many, a funeral for the family dog would seem eccentric and a formal period of mourning bizarre. Still, the loss of a pet affects our emotions, and all the more so if the dog was an integral part of the family. These feelings usually progress through several stages:

DENIAL-the initial response when an owner is confronted with a terminal condition or sudden death. Possibly a mind buffer against a sharp emotional blow.

BARGAINING-very common in the human grieving process. Pet owners are less likely but and example would be "If Rover recovers, I'll never skip his regular walk."

ANGER- Why did this happen??? If only I hadn't left the dog at my sister's house with her kids....

GRIEF-This is the stage of true sadness.Only emptiness remains.  It is now that the support of family and friends is most important and, sadly, most difficult to find. It is normal, and should be acceptable, to display grief when a dog dies. It is helpful, too, to recognize that other pet owners have experienced similar strong feelings, and that you are not alone in this feeling of grief.

Resolution-The Final Stage - As time passes, the distress dissolves as the pet owner remembers the good times, not the pet's passing. And, more often than not, the answer lies in a new pet.

Contributed by Ruth Darlene Stewart.