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Formerly of 607 S. Harrison Street, Wilmington, DE 19805

Pet Loss


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It may seem odd to some that we would include a page on our website dedicated to the subject of Pet Loss.  However, we know that the death of a pet can be just as traumatic to some as the death of a family member. In fact, there are times when the death of a companion pet can be even harder (Carmack, 2003, p. 84). "We are not measuring value here, but rather the sense of loss. . . the emotional attachment to the relative who died may not have been very strong at all. Thus the distress over the loss of the pet may indeed be worse, and the pet owner need not feel quilty about it" (Potter, S. & J. W., Sr., & Koss, G. J., 1991, p.13).

Some statistics about pet owners are very interesting. "84 percent consider their animals family members; 99 percent talk to their pets and 54 percent celebrate their pet's birthday" ( Wolfelt, 1992). Once, when a group of children were asked, "who can you talk to when you are sad and grieving?" One 6th grader answered, "My dog!" Pet's don't talk back. They don't tell others our secrets. They love us unconditionally, no matter how we look or what we do. They never tell us their problems and they are always happy to see us. They are many times better friends to us than the people we know. I guess that is why we refer to them as "Man's best friend".

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One of the reasons that the death of a pet is so difficult for some is the fact that our society does not fully accept pet loss as a viable need to grieve. "It was only a dog". The loss then produces a kind of "disenfranchised grief" which is due to "a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported" (Doka, 1989). In fear of being ridiculed, some keep quiet about their grief and suffer in silence. This makes their grief experience that much harder.

The death of a pet also is the first death experience for some. This is especially true for children but also some adults. Many families have a pet cemetery in their back yard where hamsters, canaries, cats, and dogs all find their final resting place. We always seem to have the need to give them "a proper burial". Sometimes we even say a few words or a prayer at the grave site. We don't do this kind of thing for "just an animal".

Corr, Nabe, & Corr have observed that there are "several lessons that really apply not only to pet loss, but to all losses". These lessons are: 1) It is the relationship the bereaved had with the deceased, "not the object of the relationship (in this case, the animal in question)"; 2) The circumstances surrounding the death or loss; and 3) The circumstances of the survivor; such as age, prior grief experience, and an available support system (Corr, Nabe, & Corr, 2003, p. 253).

As a result, the best thing we can do to help those who have lost a pet is to "recognize the value of the relationship" (Corr, Nabe, & Corr, 2003, p. 253) the individual had with their pet and allow them to feel the same kind of pain, loneliness, and heartache one might expect when a close family member dies.

Feel free to contact us if you would like more information concerning the grief associated with pet loss. We are available to answer questions, provide resources, or to simply listen to your personal story of grief. We can be reached by calling (302) 652-6811 or by e-mail at bereavement@dohertyfh.com.


References

  1. Carmack, B. J. (2003). Grieving the death of a pet. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press.
  2. Corr, C. A., Nabe, C. M., & Corr, D. M. (2003). Death and dying, life and living (4th ed.). Belmont, Ga.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  3. Doka, K. J. (1986). Disenfranchised grief. In K. J. Doka (Ed.), Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow (pp.3-11). Lexington, Ma.: Lexington Books.
  4. Potter, S. & J. W., Sr. & Koss, G. J. (1991). Death of a pet: Answers to questions for children and animal lovers of all ages. Madison, Al., Guideline Publications.
  5. Wolfelt. A. D. (1992). Helping your family cope when a pet dies. Batesville, In.: Batesville Management Services.

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