The loss of a pet can affect you the same as, or possibly more than, losing a family member – so why is it not an event that is taken seriously? The bond between human and animal is the strongest it has ever been. Pet ownership is at an all-time high, especially in this age when they are no longer treated as a work tool to catch mice or as a hunting companion; now they are truly anthropomorphised and treated as one of the family, like a mini fuzzy human. We talk to them, play with them, feed the highest quality food we can source, and the top medical care we can find. Yet pet loss is not given the same importance or recognised in the same way as the loss of a person.
The Role of Religion and Spirituality in Pet Loss
Religion and spirituality have been rather slow in recognising the spiritual bond between human and animal and while there are many explanations and talks of afterlife for the end of a human life, the end of your pet’s life is scarcely mentioned. While we can find comfort in our religious beliefs, whatever they may be, that we may see our family again someday, there is a large grey area over whether or not we will see our pets again. I believe the most heart-breaking part of an animal’s death is that they were only in a part of your life, but you were their whole life.
With humans, we are given closure through funerals and mourning periods. However, when it comes to pet loss, there is almost little to no closure. This can, in fact, make it harder to deal with than a human loss and therefore it can take a lot longer to fully grieve and heal. This may be a contribution to the fact it isn’t given enough credence, because it takes longer to heal over an animal due to the lack of grieving and healing, so people who do not understand the pain make fun of it and think that it is ridiculous or that people go over the top about it.
It doesn’t make sense that the death of a pet isn’t given sufficient credence — as pet ownership is at an all-time high and the bond between human and animal has been strongly documented for thousands of years. For instance, looking at the relationship between Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus – a partnership still iconic and widely referred to in pop culture – he mourned the loss of his equine companion so strongly he named a city after him.
Euthanasia can also play a large part in animal bereavement. If we have chosen, for whatever reason, to have our pet euthanised other people may believe we have brought the death on ourselves, and so wonder ‘why does it take such a long time to mourn?’.
To me, the only way to allow pet loss the amount of credence it deserves is to normalise the grief and as a nation not have what other cultures view as a very shut off approach to death and mortality. Death is an inevitable fact of life, and perhaps we should see these situations as a way to celebrate the life we have given our animals and the happiness we have both shared.
For help with pet loss, we have a special pet loss resources page with links to external websites.