Yesterday, I talked about pet loss and how people view pets as family, which often leads them to an intense grief experience if a pet is lost. Today, I will talk about a few circumstances that feed into complications of grief through pet loss. First, the idea of “pet loss” is not socially accepted. I read somewhere that there are no pet bereavement days at work. In addition, people look at you funny if you say you’re going to a Pet Loss Support Group. My hope is that if you have to call off for any reason related to losing your pet, that you have a fellow animal loving boss that will understand. I remember awhile back when a coworker and friend of mine lost her cat that had been her faithful companion for many years, I bought a sympathy card for her. I had a little difficulty getting a few people in our department to sign it because they weren’t “animal people.” So what. This cat had been by my friend’s side longer than many human relationships last. It was a presence that will be missed. And because I cared about my friend, I wanted her to know that I felt for her pain.
Unfortunately, society is filled with many people that do not apply the grieving process to pet loss. It becomes a “disenfranchised grief,” which means that it is a grief that is not socially accepted or is stigmatized. Pet owners have to grieve for their beloved animals in secret because of the fear of being ridiculed or misunderstood.
Another way grief can become complicated in any situation, but especially in pet loss is the manner in which the pet is lost. Some animals go through long illnesses, some are involved in accidents. But what about when the pet owner herself has to make the decision to euthanize an animal? This inserts an added dimension of guilt into the grief equation.
The important factor here is compassion. If you know someone who has lost an animal and is having a hard time with it, take some time to listen to their story. That person is experiencing the same types of abandonment feelings that you feel if you lost a close companion. Understand just what the animal meant to that person before making judgment.