This weekend past was Pet Awareness Day. The profound grief that may be experienced after the death of a companion animal is overlooked and even trivialised by people without insight or compassion.
A wedding service includes the words ‘til death us do part’ recognising that even successful marriages will be brought to an end by our mortality. As the animals that we might have as a pet all have shorter natural lifespans than humans (tortoises may be an exception), bereavement is an inevitable consequence of bringing an animal into one’s life.
For children, the death of a pet will often be their first experience of death and grief. It is a good opportunity for parents or carers to have open, honest and age appropriate conversations about the subject. Child Bereavement UK and Winston’s Wish have excellent resources on how children understand death at different ages. Seeing the body and having some kind of ceremony may both be appropriate for many families even if one has no space or inclination for burial in a garden.
An adult may spend far more time with a pet than any other individual person if they live alone, especially since working from home has become normal for many and there has been an increase in pet ownership amongst young people during lockdowns with about ¾ of new owners reporting a beneficial impact on their mental health. When that relationship ends whether traumatically or preceded by the sometimes agonising responsibility of the decision for euthanasia, it is inevitable that there will be emotional consequences. Most of us are deeply attached to our animals and would often use the word love. That grief is the price we pay for love has been said by more than one eminent writer on bereavement.
So, if you are not an animal lover, please do not dismiss your relative or friend’s distress following the death of a pet with casual words such as ‘it was just an animal’ or ‘just go to the rescue shelter and get another one.’ And if, reading this, you find yourself struggling with grief for a pet, please be reassured that this is both natural and normal.
If you need help contact the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service on 0800 096 6606, available between 8.30am and 8.30pm every day.