“I didn’t know anyone else felt as deeply as I do towards animals” a number of people have confided in me. When it comes to your love of animals, you may not be as alone as you think! Some pet owners are extraordinarily attached and dedicated to their animal companions. So when their good (or best) friends die – or otherwise leave their lives – they are heartbroken and sometimes devastated.
Since more and more animal lovers are “coming out of the closet,” fewer animal lovers are feeling as alone with their intense pet-related grief. More and more animal lovers are openly talking about their deep bonds with their furred, feathered, finned, and scaled friends. Peoples’ attitudes towards pet loss have really changed in the last 40 years – especially in the last decade. Despite growing enlightenment, misperceptions about pet loss still persist. These myths hinder healthy mourning. Here are some of the myths followed by the realities.
Myth 1. People who experience intense grief over the loss or anticipated loss of a pet are crazy, weird, or strange.
Reality: Individuals who say this, or believe this, are judgmental. Experiencing powerful feelings of distress over the loss of a loved animal companion is, usually, normal and healthy. People who have strong feelings about the loss of a pet have them because they are capable of intimate attachments and deep emotional bonding. This is something to be proud of, not something to put down.
Myth 2. Pet loss is insignificant when compared to the loss of human life. To mourn the loss of a pet devalues the importance of human relationships.
Reality: The loss of a beloved animal companion can be as emotionally significant, even more significant, than the loss of a human friend or relative. People are capable of simultaneously loving and caring about both animals and humans. One doesn’t have to detract from the other.
Myth 3. It is best to replace the lost pet as quickly as possible. This will ease the pain of loss.
Reality: Animal companions cannot be “replaced.” They are not interchangeable. They are all separate, different individuals with unique personalities. People need to feel emotionally ready to get another pet before they can successfully adopt a new animal into their hearts and family. Some people attempt to avoid the mourning process by rushing out to get a “replacement” pet. This isn’t good for people or for the pets.
Myth 4. It is best to mourn alone.
This is a way to be strong and independent, and not burden others with your problems. Besides, you need to protect yourself from being ridiculed for loving and missing your special animal friend.
Reality: It takes courage to reach out to others. Mourners can greatly benefit by the empathy, caring, and understanding of supportive others. But be selective about where you turn to for help since some people do not take pet loss seriously.
Myth 5. Resolution and closure (a bringing to an end; conclusion) to mourning occurs when you have succeeded in having only pleasant memories of your pet.
Reality: It is rare that anyone ever achieves complete resolution or closure to a profound loss. One is left with psychological scars, if not with incompletely healed wounds. It is unrealistic to expect that you will one day be left with only pleasant memories. Besides, being left with only pleasant memories is one-sided and doesn’t present a balanced view of reality – not a goal that would be healthy or valuable to pursue. One cannot fully appreciate pleasant memories unless one has unpleasant memories to contrast them with.
Myth 6. It is selfish to euthanize your pet.
Reality: Euthanasia is a compassionate and humane way to end the intense suffering or declining quality of life of a companion animal. Viewed in this context, it would be selfish to unnecessarily prolong the suffering of a seriously ill or injured animal. Ask yourself this: Whose needs and best interests are being served – those of the owner or animal companion?
Gray, T. (2006). The 15 Myths about Pet Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-15-myths-about-pet-loss/000624
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.