Grieving over the death of a pet can be just as traumatic as grieving over the death of a human family member. In the past, any public sign of grief from a pet owner was met with scorn and ridicule. The pet owner has to hide any signs of grief, which only stresses the person and makes healing all the more difficult. Grief can be just as intense for a pet that needed to be euthanized as there is for a pet that died suddenly in an accident.
Pets play a crucial role in their caretakers’ lives, acting as everything from bed-warmers to confidants. Pets play such a soothing role in the human healing process that thousands visit hospitals, nursing homes and even therapy sessions in order to help people calm down and heal. Many medical professional have an aquarium in their waiting rooms in order to help their patients relax. Now, many human medical professionals realize that grieving pet owners need access to counselling.
Books and Pamphlets
There are several excellent books on the specific topic of how a pet owner can handle the death of a pet. Although this does not take the place of one-on-one counselling, reading books may be a great first step for someone who is very shy or who finds articulating their grief very difficult. Books can also be used as a reference or guide in support groups or professional counselling sessions.
Veterinarians’ offices may also have pamphlets about the grieving process to offer pet parents. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) asks that all of its members have such pamphlets available or at least offer a URL to the online version of such a pamphlet. Veterinarians may also be able to recommend professional therapists in the area that are experienced in pet loss and grieving.
Online Support Groups
Some pet grief books published since 1993 are a result of the tremendous rise in online pet grief support groups and the circulation of an anonymous poem called “The Rainbow Bridge.” The poem became so well known that the phrase “gone to the Rainbow Bridge” is now a euphemism for the death of a pet.
The Internet made an inexpensive way for pet lovers around the world to meet anonymously and share their experiences. Some people do choose to phone each other or meet, but this does not always happen. Animal welfare groups such as the ASPCA, veterinarians’ websites, some animal breeders and even personal websites often contain links to these online support groups.
Many colleges and universities that teach extensive veterinary courses also have pet grief counselling hotlines. Talking to a veterinarian or student of veterinary medicine can be a safe place for pet owners to ask questions they may be uncomfortable asking their regular veterinarian. This is especially helpful to owners who had to have their pets euthanized and feel incredibly guilty about it. Some of these hotlines may be run or supported by churches, but all pet owners are encouraged to call a support line, no matter what their religious beliefs.
Grieving for a pet is not silly. Pet owners need to get more information or talk to someone in order to help with the grieving process.
“When a Pet Dies.” Fred Rogers. Putnam Juvenile. 1998 edition.
The American Veterinary Medical Association. “AVMA Guidelines for Pet Loss Support Services.” http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/pet_loss.asp
ASPCA. “Pet Loss.” http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-loss/
Personal experience – lots and lots of personal experience.