Common Myths and Misconceptions about the Loss of a Cherished Pet


by – Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT

COMMON MYTHS ABOUT THE LOSS OF PETS:

There is nothing special about the relationship between animals and humans. Your relationship with a companion animal can be just as special and loving as those you have with any other family member or close friend. Loving an animal is different from loving a human being, because a pet loves you in a way that people cannot: profoundly, boundlessly and unconditionally.

Losing an animal is less painful and less significant than losing a human loved one. Pain over the loss of a beloved companion animal is as natural as the pain you would feel over the loss of any significant relationship. Since cherished pets weave their way into every aspect of your daily life, in some ways it may be even more difficult to cope with losing them. Once they’re gone, you’re repeatedly encountering evidence of their absence and constantly reminded of your grief.

Having close relationships with animals (and grieving at their loss) is abnormal and unnatural. You need not let anyone influence you to believe that your relationships with animals are somehow wrong or less important than those you have with humans. Loving animals well and responsibly teaches all of us to better love all living beings, including humans. Grief is the normal response to losing someone you love, and grief is indifferent to the species of the one who is lost. Love is love, loss is loss, and pain is pain.

Relationships we have with animals are not as important as those we have with humans. Having deeply meaningful, spiritual and healthy relationships with animals is not abnormal, and in some cases may be more emotionally healthy, spiritually healing and personally rewarding than those we have with humans. Pets offer us a kind of loyalty, devotion and unconditional love that cannot be found in the more complicated relationships we have with relatives, friends and neighbors.

Death of a pet can be a useful “dress rehearsal” for the real thing, especially for children. Death of a pet is often a child’s first real encounter with a major loss. Suddenly friendship, companionship, loyalty, support and unconditional love are replaced with overwhelming and unfamiliar feelings of loss, confusion, emptiness, fear and grief. Far from being a so called dress rehearsal, for most children pet loss is a profoundly painful experience.

Most people think of euthanasia as a quick and easy way to get rid of their sick, dying, old or unwanted animals. Deciding when and whether to euthanize a beloved pet is probably one of the most difficult choices an animal lover ever has to make. On the one hand, you know that choosing to end your animal’s life will intensify your own emotional pain, yet postponing the decision may prolong your animal’s pain and suffering needlessly. At such times it is very important to explore all aspects of the euthanasia decision with your veterinarian and with others whom you trust, to listen to what your animal may be trying to tell you, and to trust your own intuition.

Conducting rituals, funerals or memorial services for dead animals is a frivolous waste of time and money, and those who engage in such practices are eccentric and strange. Whether for animals or for humans, death ceremonies and rituals help meet our needs to support one another in grief, acknowledge the important role our loved ones played in our lives, honor the memory of our departed companions and bring meaning to our loss.

© 2009 by Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT

About the Author: As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved child herself, Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FThas focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years.  She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and now serves as moderator for its online Grief Healing Discussion Groups. A frequent contributor to healthcare journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, andChildren and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping.  She has written a number of booklets forHospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses forSelf-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss.

With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Groupat Hospice of the Valley and to the Halton-Peel Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada.  Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine.

On the Web since January, 2000, Marty’s Grief Healing site offers information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal.  She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association.

Marty lives with her husband Michael and Beringer, their beloved Tibetan terrier, in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  She welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at tousleym@aol.com or through her Web site, at www.griefhealing.com or http://www.hovforum.ipbhost.com

Cori Bussolari

More Articles Written by Cori

Dr. Cori Bussolari brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her practice, working extensively with children, adolescents, and families coping with illness, death, or a significant life transition. She is a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Educational Psychologist, and Credentialed School Psychologist. Dr Bussolari is one of the featured writers for the Open to Hope Foundation Death of a Pet Blog, for which she publishes a column http://thepetlossblog.com Dr. Cori Bussolari appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Heidi & Dr. Gloria Horsley to discuss “Being Orphaned at Nineteen.” To hear her being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley061407.mp3

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  • Kathy says:

    Our pets give us an amazing gift, that of unconditional love and it is important
    to acknowledge their loss. The bond with our pets is real and profound and
    there are ways to get through the sorrow we are experiencing. Something that
    can help is an easy meditation to calm your mind. At positivelyup.com you can
    read some helpful hints on this subject and listen to a sample meditation.
    Kathy