Monday, July 10, 2006

Pet Loss

Last week we talked a little about disenfranchised grief.  However, disenfranchised grief is more than just "ways that people die."  Disenfranchised grief can be due to the type or kind of relationship we had with the deceased.  One of the key definitions of disenfranchised grief is the inability to grieve openly due to the socially unacceptable aspect of the loss.  So to put this is relationship terms, perhaps one could feel that they could not fully grieve the loss of a co-worker, a celebrity, a friend or acquaintance, or perhaps a pet.

Pet loss is a difficult loss to grieve.  Many people feel that their pets are family members, or treat them as their children.  The pain of this loss is great indeed and should be grieved openly and fully, just as any other loss - but how many times have people been heard to say, "But it's just a pet.  You should be over this by now."  People who are grieving the loss of a pet don't have the benefit of being able to go to the many bereavement support groups in their area because their loss is not recognized as being big enough, or important enough,  to participate in a group where people have lost a spouse, parent or sibling.  But those of us who have lost a dear pet, know that this is not true.  Here is a reprint, with permission, from Dr. Alan Wolfelt that shows that people have a "right" to openly and fully grieve the loss of their pet.

                                                                THE PET LOVER’S CODE






Though you should reach out to others as you journey through grief, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people.  You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you.


The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help.  This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.


1.                  You have the right to grieve the death of a pet.

You loved your pet.  Your pet loved you.  You had a strong and profound relationship.  You have every right to grieve this death.  You need to grieve this death.  You also need to mourn this death (express your grief outside yourself).


2.                  You have the right to talk about your grief.

Talking about your grief will help you heal.  Seek out others who will allow you to talk about your grief.  Other pet lovers who have experienced the death of a pet often make good listeners at this time.  If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.


3.                  You have the right to feel a variety of emotions.

Confusion, anger, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey after the death of a pet.  Feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just are.


4.                  You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

After the death of a pet, your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued.  Respect what your body and mind are telling you.  Get daily rest.  Eat balanced meals.  And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel like doing.


5.                  You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you.  This can be frightening, but it is normal and natural.


6.                  You have the right to make use of ritual.

After a pet dies, you can harness the power of ritual to help you heal.  Plan a ceremony that includes everyone who loved your pet.


7.                  You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

At times of loss, it is natural to turn to your faith or spirituality.  Engaging your spirituality by attending church or other places of worship, praying, or spending time alone in nature may help you better understand and reconcile your loss.


8.                  You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, “Why did my pet die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not.  Ask them anyway.


9.                  You have the right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of a special companion animal.  Instead of ignoring your memories, find ways to capture them and treasure them always.


10.              You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief after the death of a pet may not happen quickly.  Remember, grief is best experienced in “doses.”  Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you.  Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of a beloved pet changes your life forever.




Excerpt from


When Your Pet Dies

A Guide to Mourning, Remembering, and Healing


Reprinted and distributed with permission from


Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Center for Loss and Life Transition

3735 Broken Bow Road

Fort Collins, CO 80526

  Grieving the loss of a pet openly, and fully, is becoming more accepted, but there are still some people out there that may say some hurtful things.  So please remember that you have a "right" to grieve your loss.  Please remember that there are groups out there to support this special kind of loss.  A great website to visit is The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement ( and Lasting Friends (  Finally, please know that grief counselors are available to support all types of losses, including pet loss.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at or 800-882-1117. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged. 

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