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 firstname.lastname@example.org.