After my father lost a well-loved cat, he refused to allow another one in the house.Even though his cat lived to be 20 years old, he loved his Siamese, Queenie, so much he couldn't bear to love another cat and then lose it. His refusal affected more than just him, though, it hurt my mother who in the following years missed having a cat in the house. Grief hurts. It doesn't matter whether that grief is for the loss of a family member, friend, a job, a change in circumstances, or a well-loved pet. A pet who has lived many years with you, as Queenie did with my parents, will obviously cause a great deal of grief with her passing. Grief is devastating and when a pet owner is told, "But it was only a pet," the heartbreak is compounded; there is the loss of your pet and then the lack of understanding from the person who tried to minimize your suffering. When I fostered a litter of five kittens for a rescue organization earlier this year, and found that all of the kittens were terminally ill and as a result lost all five of them, I suffered grief as if they had lived with me for years. I grieved for the sweet little babies they were, the lives they could have lived, and my inability to save them. Thankfully no one told me they were only kittens, or only pets, or not worth the grief. When you lose a pet, surround yourself with people who also value pets and avoid those who don't. Talk to other cat owners, dog owners, or rabbit owners; depending on the species of pet you lost. These are the people who understand the feelings you have for your pet and who will understand the depth of your grief. Arguing with people who either don't share a home with a pet or who don't feel about their pet as you do, is pointless.
Grief is a Unique ExperienceEveryone grieves in their own way. Some people have compared it to the waves of the ocean, coming in and easing, then coming in again. Others have said it was like running into a brick wall. There is no right or wrong way to grieve as long as you don't hurt yourself or others around you, and that you understand help is available should you need it. When I experienced several losses in a short period of time, both human family members and pets, I contacted a grief counselor and found her to be a great help. There are also pet bereavement groups, including the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, that can be of help.
Denial is Usually FirstDenial is usually the first stage of grief and just about everyone goes through denial in some manner. For example, often the first comment or thought in finding out about a death is, "Oh, no, that can't be right!" Or, "That couldn't have happened!" This is denial. Grief experts say that denial helps keep us sane. The combination of shock and denial allow bits and pieces of reality to sink in as we can tolerate it. Plus, denial puts some of our emotions in the back of our mind so we aren't completely overwhelmed. Later, as we begin asking questions and start to accept the situation, denial fades.
Anger is Unpleasant but NecessaryAnger surfaces when we begin to ask questions; often towards the end of denial. Some pet owners get angry at the veterinarian who cared for their pet. Other people will get angry at family members, "If you had cared for Sweetie better." The anger can also be expressed towards God or other belief systems; "Why was this allowed to happen?" Many people suspend their religious beliefs temporarily out of anger or continue to question their religious leaders for a period of time. This, too, is normal. You might also turn that anger towards yourself. If you were unable to save your pet, didn't have the money to pay for certain treatments, or elected to euthanize your pet; you may find yourself angrily questioning yourself. Anger is unpleasant, raises the blood pressure, and if it continues can cause some people to turn away from you. However, it does have some good in it. It's a necessary part of the grieving process and it shows the depth of your feelings for your departed pet.