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  • Heather Hardeman, LPC, RPT

Grief: The Loss of a Pet

The loss of a pet is something that we do not talk about enough. When a pet passes away it changes so much about our lives. There is no longer that special friend there that needs to be taken care of. For instance, when we pull into our driveway we are reminded that our friend will no longer be excitedly waiting to greet us. These changes contribute to the experiencing of grief more frequently. For many, their pet is one of their most helpful coping tools. When we are feeling depressed, anxious, or have had a stressful day our pets are there to help us feel better. Thus, not only are we now grieving the loss but have also lost our most successful and healthiest tools for coping with daily stress.

In the past, many people have shared thoughts of feeling silly about having such strong feelings of sadness and grief when they’ve lost their pet. However, if we are someone who’s pet was also one of their best friends, these feelings are normal. Our dogs, cats, and other animals are part of our families for sometimes 10 plus years and have been with us through multiple changes and stresses in our lives. Allowing ourselves to feel sad and grieve them, while seeking support, is the healthiest way for us to cope with our loss.

When working with my clients, I have always recognized that when their animal has passed it is a huge loss and often causes many setbacks. Personally, until this year I had never experienced that type of loss myself. This year I lost two of my furry friends within several months due to poisons that were in treats I had purchased for them at a large chain pet store. The first loss was of my best friend of 13 years. When this happened it changed the way I lived my life daily and I missed him in such a different way than when I had grieved the loss of a human loved one. Not to say it was worse or better but just such a different experience. A month later it was determined that our 6month old puppy was also losing her kidney functions. After daily visits to the vet and doing everything imaginable to save her, she passed away a month later.

Afterwards, our home felt so empty. Five months later, I began to gain the courage explore the idea of possibly finding another companion. We now have a sweet baby named Bernie and he is becoming a part of our family. My best friend of 12 years is still my screen saver on my phone and I miss him everyday. Through this experience, I have more understanding into how important our pets are to our lives and sense of overall wellness. It even helped me to further gain insight that if my loss affected me in this way, how it could affect someone who is already going through a difficult time or suffering with anxiety and/or depression.

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