Grieving Over a Pet
The loss of a pet can be a difficult time - often just as bad as losing another human that you are close to.
Grieving over a the loss of a beloved pet is completely normal and something that nearly everyone that loses a pet experiences.
One research study by Field et al. (2009) found that the more attached a person was to their pet, the more severe the grief. This only makes sense. So, if you feel intense grief it is only because you loved your pet so much.
It is normal to feel sad after your pet dies, just like when anyone you care about dies. It doesn't matter if it is a cat, dog, or other animal. It is still a loss.
What I find surprising is other people's reaction to this grief.
Strangely (to me at least), "grief following pet loss is often misunderstood and devalued"(Durkin, 2009). Many people feel the loss of a pet just isn't that important.
Unfortunately, I know this too well.
On August 1, 2011 I lost the best friend I've ever had to vaccine induced sarcoma.
She was a little stray that I found back in 2003 that I took in. I really took a liking to her and even named her after myself.
For all practical purposed she was "my child," despite not being human. She was the most important "person" in my life.
So when the time came when I had to put her to sleep I was completely devastated, which is understandable given how much I cared for her. It also didn't help that her life was cut short by cancer and that she died when she was only 8. Had she lived out her full life span I would have been sad, but maybe not as sad.
Other People Don't Seem to Understand Grief Over a Pet
I don't understand how other people don't seem to get it, but most other people don't understand grieving over a pet. I guess their thinking is that it is "just a pet" and so it doesn't matter. However, depending on how close you were to your pet, the grief can be terrible.
Other People's Reactions to My Grief
Of course the people at the veterinarian's office were sympathetic and understanding. In fact, they even gave me a ride home that day. I think that other "cat people" get it. Probably "dog people" and any animal lover would understand as well.
I should have just called in to work the next day, but I didn't. If there wasn't society's double standard of grief for pets vs humans, then I could have had 3 days of bereavement leave.
Instead I went to work, but then got sent home for crying at my desk. What's more, this shouldn't have been shocking to anyone. I talked about this cat all of the time and they knew that I had put her to sleep the day before. They should have just told me to stay home in the first place. Or I should have just known to call in sick in the first place.
But I went in, but was unable to work.
I really believe that most employers should be giving people at least one day off for pet bereavement.
Two people I worked with at the time actually gave me a sympathy card after she died, which meant a lot to me.
My Family's Reaction
My relatives did say they were sorry to hear that she died, but they never even sent a card or anything - despite knowing what this cat meant to me. Month's later if I even brought up her death (via email) they didn't even respond to that part of the email. They weren't trying to be mean - they just didn't feel it was important and probably thought that I was kind of odd for still missing this cat even months later.
I couldn't even bring myself to change the home page of this site until almost two years after she died because it had all of her information about her vaccine induced sarcoma treatments, which is now on an interior page.
Even now, when it has been nearly 4 years since she passed, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her. But I'm okay with this - I wouldn't want to ever forget what she meant to me. If anyone finds this strange or odd I'm okay with that too.
Durkin, A. (2009). Loss of a companion animal: understanding and helping the bereaved. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services 47(7): 26-31.
Field NP, Orsini L, Gavish R, Packman W. (2009). Role of attachment in response to pet loss. Death Studies 33(4): 334-355.