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It is normal to be deeply saddened by the death of a pet, what to do to overcome it?

Sydney. My partner and I lost our beloved dog, Kiwi Taro, three weeks ago. He was fourteen and a half years old. It is impossible to describe what Kiwi meant to us, or how his death has affected us. As I reflect on what life means without a kiwi, it may be a good time to reflect on the effects of grief on those who lose an animal. A new review published today tries to find the same.

The purpose of the review is to inform counselors about how to help people bereavement cope with the death of a pet. The authors highlight that the bond between humans and animals can be just as strong as that between two humans, and therefore the loss of one can be just as profound. However, there is a tendency in society to invalidate that grief. If this is the case, people grieving the loss of a pet may feel isolated and ashamed or unable to express their grief, increasing the intensity of grief.

The authors’ advice for counselors is to step away from their own prejudices and acknowledge that the human-animal bond can be deep and complex. Indeed, in some cases, animals generally play a different kind of emotional and social support role for fellow humans. As we better understand the grief associated with the death of an animal, more specific guidelines for counseling may emerge. For now, it’s important to recognize that the loss of an animal can be every bit as painful as the loss of a human, and the experience of grief is the same. Here I outline some ways to help you in the face of their death, and how to help a grieving friend.

Losing a Pet Hurts
Anyone who has loved an animal companion knows that losing a pet hurts. The relationship we form with an animal is unique, and they become firmly ingrained in our being. Wherever we go with our two other dogs, memories of Kiwi pop up. Our daily routine often includes our dogs. Grief is an emotion associated with the feeling of loss, the feeling of emptiness when someone close to us is gone. It is considered normal to mourn the loss of a relative or close human friend. But as the review notes, there are many types of grief, some especially relevant to pet owners.

Kiwi was slowly moving towards death and we were already beginning to understand that he would not live much longer. He was unable to do many of the activities he used to do with great pleasure due to his age. We were concerned about his quality of life and anticipating that it might be time for him to leave, but also afraid that we might have made this decision too soon or too late. This process can lead many pet owners to experience guilt, where they may feel guilty for not doing enough to increase the time they have with their pet.

The suffering of a grieving person going through such a loss is compounded when society does not consider it valid and deserving of social support. Society may view pets as “just an animal”, and therefore according to them it is not a worthy or appropriate cause of grief. This can make people feel ashamed or guilty about the impact of losing a companion animal, and try to hide it or move on without resolving it. Grief is a very personal journey and no one can tell you how you should or shouldn’t experience it. Here are a few things to remember: Embrace the sadness. I find peace in accepting that my heart is broken and I want to allow myself to be that way.

Grief for the sadness that comes naturally, for as long as it feels right. Everyone grieves differently and the amount of time it takes, whether it’s weeks or years. Get support from your social network. The review emphasizes the importance of social support. If friends or relatives do not understand, then contact other animal lovers. Perhaps look for an animal bereavement group online. Find ways to honor your pet’s memory. The review suggests writing them a letter and having them write a letter back to you. Or you can create something that expresses your feelings for them, create a memorial, or perform a ceremony or ritual.

Pay attention to your other animals. Some animals are barely aware of their companion animal, while others may demonstrate their unhappiness about it by showing signs such as eating less or being afraid. Their suffering is also genuine, and if their condition persists after a few days, you should talk to your veterinarian. Our two little dogs didn’t look for Kiwi at all after she left, and we were glad we didn’t include them when we said goodbye. Our troubles would affect them more than Kiwi’s departure.

If you are worried about your grief, seek professional help. Professional psychologists and counselors are trained to help in these situations. How to Help Someone Grieving the Loss of a Pet If you have a friend or relative who has recently lost a pet, here are some suggestions: Acknowledge and validate their pain and grief. You don’t have to understand it to believe it. Sharing your experiences of loss can make others feel that you understand their grief, but there is also a possibility that it can also make someone feel isolated. Because their experiences are different.

Take steps with care and stay focused Send a card, a gift or a message. I didn’t have the emotional courage to respond to the messages I received when Kiwi died, but I appreciated each and every one of them. It meant a lot to know that my grief was recognized and that my social circle knew that my heart was broken. I especially appreciate others sharing their memories of Kiwi so keep your support.

It takes some people years to recover from such a loss, and that’s okay. Society may have expectations about how long an animal should grieve, but the review points to research that shows the stronger the bond between a human and an animal, the greater the grief over its loss. It gets deeper. (Melissa Starling, University of Sydney)

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