Living well for many of us includes sharing our lives with a variety of pets. Some of us prefer cats, others prefer dogs, birds, fish or horses. If an animal is truly a pet, s/he becomes a family member and when they die...we grieve.
I have not had many pets in my life. As a child we had a puppy for about two days when it died. I don't remember much about that. As an adult I had a cat named Toby and later I fell in love with dogs. Our first dog, a Golden mix, was a throw away. Our neighbor saw its owner slow his truck a bit near a dump and throw Buffy (pictured left) out the window. He was 4 months old and became our family member for 13 years. He roamed our woods with us, curled up with Bill or me (or both of us) as we watched television, listened to music or slept.
In 2003 Bentley, another Golden, came into our lives and as he now approaches his 11th birthday I wonder how I will deal with his death. I have learned that one can not anticipate the grief we will feel with a loss. Bentley has been there through Bill's struggles with Alzheimer's and my grief following Bill's death. A registered therapy dog he is present during the grief counseling and psychotherapy sessions I do with clients. Most clients greet him before they green me and pet him as they talk or weep. I am not sure which of us is the most effective therapist.
Research shows that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression; pets can lower blood pressure in stressful situations as well as calm and relax us. They lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels; help heart attack patients survive longer; reduce the need for doctor visits; reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate. Many of these therapeutic values are because pets fulfill the human need for touch....something any widow/er will tell you they deeply miss when their spouse dies.
Pet lovers are aware of how much we depend on the unconditional love our pets offer us. What much of society is unaware of is that the grief of losing a pet is basically the same as losing a family member.  A bereaved pet lover is hurt and put off when someone says: "it's just a dog" or "you can get another cat". We would never say that to someone who lost a person they love. Why would we say it to someone who lost their companion pet?
My colleague and friend, bereavement counselor Marty Tousley ( recently wrote an article about the differences and similarities between losing a person we love and losing a pet we love. I cannot say it any better than Marty has. Follow this link to read her piece and at the bottom of the page you will find more links to many articles on pet loss.

          "The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals." ~Mohandas Gandhi

Related to:
pet loss, general grief, healing


05/25/2014 9:44am

Thank you for this piece, Mary. All you say is true. Anne

05/25/2014 10:14am

Dear Anne, You know this all too well. Though I never met Benji, I feel sadness that he is not with you physically.
Peace and love

05/26/2014 8:58pm

Thank you for these beautiful stories, Mary. I've been hanging out with dogs all my life. My dog Willow has gone to therapy with me since she was 8 weeks old. She also accompanies me when I volunteer in the office at Hospice. She's a healing presence (with occasional bad habits).

05/27/2014 8:38am

I have never had a client bring a dog to their session even though they are welcome to do so and know that. I think it is a perfect way to go. Bentley is a Pet Partners registered therapy dog but I do not take him anywhere (i.e. hospitals etc) as he has to have a complete bath within 24 hours of a visit and that is a huge job and pricey as I have a groomer who does it. He is a fur factory. So having him sit in with my clients is perfect. Thanks for reading my piece, Elaine.


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