Pet Bereavement Counselling
Face to face, telephone, email, instant messaging or webcam counselling
Coping with the death of a pet (also increasingly known as a ‘companion animal’*), may bring other challenges not experienced with the death of a human. When a human dies, societies have a way of dealing with the death. This might include:
- how long it is expected that someone will publicly grieve
- how to remember the person – eg. gravestone
- ceremony – burial or cremation
In addition, whilst we might feel uncomfortable being around someone who is bereaved from the death of a person, we do tend to expect (and allow) someone who is bereaved to be upset and to grieve for awhile after experiencing a death.
For a pet however, the situation tends to be different – although this does depend on specific people, and is only a generalisation.
For a pet:
- ceremonies are not commonly offered, although some pet crematoriums do offer pet funerals
- it does not seem to be so accepted that someone may be as upset as if they had experienced the death of a human
- those around a grieving owner, may offer words such as, ‘it was only a cat’, ‘you can always get another one’, ‘he/she had a good life’ etc …
Someone experiencing the death of an animal being may therefore experience what is termed ‘disenfranchised grief‘ (see Supporting grief) – where their grief is not adequately acknowledged, accepted or allowed .. by those around them. This may lead to them feeling more isolated, and more upset.
The death of a pet tends not to be given the same importance as the death of a human being – it seems that a bereaved pet owner is not expected to be as upset at the death of an animal being as they are with the death of a human being. People are less like to say:
- ‘it was only your dad’
- ‘you can have another child’
… yet because animals may be our closest friends, whom we may care for and cherish, the depth of feelings that pet owners may feel at the death of their animal companion may often feel as great, if not more so, than they might experience following the death of a human being, whether that be family member, friend, or anyone else.
We then have a situation in which a bereaved pet owner is desperately grieving the death of their cherished animal companion, whilst the message that they are getting around them is along the lines of:
- ‘don’t be silly’
- ‘it was only an animal’
- ‘you can get another one’
No wonder, we are all confused at how upset we find ourselves, when we are being told that we shouldn’t be this upset !
'Putting to sleep'
In modern society, we have reached a point at which we don’t tend to let animals die a natural death – if we believe that they are suffering, we have the option to do, what we are told ‘is the kindest thing to do‘, which is to ‘put them to sleep.
The opposite is tending to happen with human beings – with advances in medical knowledge and procedures, we are being kept alive for as long as possible, challenging the idea of whether we are now able to have a ‘good death’.
Making the decision to end the life of an animal who is sharing our life with us can be the hardest thing for a pet owner to ‘have’ to do. We may be faced with this option if an animal has suddenly become ill, such as with a road accident, or sudden illness, or be faced with this over a period of time, as with a longer illness or complicated injury.
We may have the inevitable choice to make of when to give up nursing that animal – to admit defeat that they are never going to get better, and/or that their suffering is ‘too great’, and so we should then ‘do them the ultimate kindness’.
So we can find ourselves in a situation where we are nursing a sick animal – where it is taking a lot of our time, with those around us perhaps not wanting us to spend all of that time doing that. All of that nursing may result in daily household jobs not getting done, and so things start to slide, and it becomes more difficult to exist in a ‘normal’ family routine, whilst also nursing your pet. We may find ourselves stuck – needing to devote an ever increasing amount of our time to nursing our pet, in a difficult situation with those around us perhaps feeling resentful of that time, but stuck because if we don’t look after the animal then it may have no chance of getting better – so we carry on, hoping that our care will help them to get better and keep them alive.
At some point, that nursing will stop – hopefully because our pet has got better, in which case, that’s fantastic !
However, the nursing may stop because we have had that chat with the vet and decided to call it a day and end our pet’s life – at some point. In this situation, especially if we know that our pet is likely to die, we are in a ‘no-win’ situation – devoting more and more time to looking after our pet, with perhaps more and more things at home or at work not getting done which should be getting done (because we don’t have the time because we are nursing a sick animal) – a situation which has to end at some point because those jobs such as the school run, cooking food, going to work etc … have to be done.
The only point in this situation at which you will get that time back from nursing your animal is when they die – so you may be stuck in a rubbish situation with needing to nurse your pet, and a situation in which the only way in which that it is going to end, is with the death of your beloved animal – the date for which, you are probably going to have to decide on with the vet.
That is quite possibly going to make a situation, which was rubbish to start with, feel even more rubbish and upsetting.
Types of human death
That doesn’t happen with humans as much as it does with pets. Some people die naturally – when their body is ready to die.
Other people have their pain, disease and old age, managed by medicine, and are kept going.
Where someone is critically ill, with no apparent chance of recovery, and who is being kept alive by a machine, those around them may be faced with the decision of turning off the machine, and therefore of ‘putting to sleep’ their beloved human being. Alternatively, humans have the option of ‘assisted dying’ – another type of ‘putting a human being to sleep’, with which we can make the decision ourselves that we want to die, and with which we are helped by someone else to do so. This is not currently legal in many countries.
As human beings, we do not tend to be faced with the decision to ‘put to sleep’ a human being – many of us may never have to make that decision. With an animal being however, especially with animals such as cats, dogs, and horses, which are popular choices for us to have as animal companions, it is the norm.
Animals can’t speak our human language, and so we are left to guess as to when we think that they have had enough – so we either wait until they do die themselves, which might be might possibly be in a lot of pain, or we make a guess as to when we feel that they should die. As we have the means, with our medicine, to end pain and life, , and animals don’t have that means, in our modern world, we tend to make that decision for them.
This adds a complicating factor to grieving for an animal being – that it is the norm these days for a pet owner to have to make, what can be an extremely distressing decision – to end their cherished pet’s life.
We would all perhaps prefer our animal to make up its own mind about when it wants to die – to go out in the garden, find a nice bush, and lay down and die a peaceful, pain-free death. That would perhaps be preferable to the option of ‘having’ to make the decision to end that animal’s life ourself …
Making this decision brings into play even more emotions and thoughts, many along the lines of:
- ‘was it the right time’
- ‘did I do it too early – could my pet have recovered’
- ‘did I do it too late – did my pet suffer’
As a bereaved pet owner, who is trying to deal with the loss of your pet, you may then have to deal with intense feelings of guilt at what you have done, anger perhaps at yourself, and or the vet at having had your animal ‘put to sleep’, and just complete distress at the whole situation.
Added to that, you then have to deal with the practicalities of your pet’s death with making decisions regarding burial or cremation, which casket to chose, how you are going to pay the crematorium, as well as having to get rid of any medications you have at home that you now no longer need – which all remind you of the beloved pet that you no longer have around you.
All of this can be made even worse if the people around you just don’t get’ how upset you may be feeling – and keep feeling.
Pet Bereavement support
It may be that the healing you need, either with family or friends, or on your own, is to cry and cry and cry – if that is the case, don’t underestimate the importance and healing value of crying – and crying, and crying. However, you may feel the need to talk or just ‘be’ with someone you don’t know – either face to face, on the phone, or chatting online. Everyone is different, and we all need different types of support as we go through our lives.
If you feel the need to have a look around the internet for support, I have created a website – Pet Bereavement Support to try to give support to people grieving the death of their cherished animal companions. I hope you can find some comfort if you have a look through its pages:
Pet Bereavement counselling
If you feel that you need support from other people, please see my Help page for their contact details, as I have included some information about obtaining outside help. I have included there some additional information about myself – if you would like to see if I can be of any help during your grieving. I offer counselling – face to face, telephone, or online – by email, instant messaging or by webcam.
If you do arrange to have counselling with me – before or after the death of your pet, whether that be for one session or more than one, I would hope that I can offer you empathy and understanding. I will not try to diminish the importance of that death. I will not try to hurry you through your grieving. What I will do however, is listen to you and be with you whilst you go through your grieving. It may take you a long time to feel that you are on an even keel again.
* the term ‘companion animal’ is increasingly used instead of ‘pet’, but for reference please see the Society for Companion Animal Studies
Copyright © 2019 pet bereavement Counselling