Continuing Connection with a Pet that Has Died

“Death ends a life – it does not end a relationship.” — (Anderson, 1974)

When one suffers the loss of a dear, beloved animal companion, it is a profound loss and a heart-wrenching experience: “I feel like a part of me died with her. I feel a deep emptiness inside that is physically painful (bereaved pet parent).” 

Bereaved pet parents are changed by the loss experience. Part of the change is a transformed but continuing relationship with their deceased pet. Many bereaved talk about maintaining and experiencing an ongoing attachment and continuing bond with their beloved pet following the loss. For some, keeping an ongoing connection with their pet is comforting and helps them cope better with the loss.

These are some of the ways that bereaved pet parents maintain a continuing bond with their beloved animal companions:

 Talking to their pet as if they are still here saying things like “good morning, I love you.”

 Recalling fond memories and special times with their pet such as thinking back to birthdays, holidays, and family events. Preparing diaries or a journal, describing the good times and happy memories.

 Holding onto special belonging and possessions in order to feel close. “I wear his dog tags and I have a paw print on my necklace (bereaved pet parent).”

 Creating memorials and rituals to honor their animal – creating a scrapbook, framing photos, scattering ashes at special places. One bereaved pet parent states; “I am very involved in dog rescue, and hope to bring in another foster as soon as possible. The best way to honor a lost pet is to save another.”

 Thinking about being reunited with their pet. Some bereaved pet parents feel an ongoing spiritual connection with their pet. “Looking forward to being together again is a hope that gives meaning to life (Carmack, 2003).” Many bereaved talk about the Rainbow Bridge poem and draw considerable comfort from this thought.

 Thinking about the lessons learned from the pet. “He was a member of our family for nearly five years and he taught us so much about how to love life even when faced with significant challenges; how to adapt to change and adversity, and; how to accept the cards you are dealt without complaint. He also taught us the meaning of loyalty and priorities – that your favorite thing in the world should be just to sit and spend time with those you love (bereaved pet parent).”

Finding Hope and Support After Pet Loss

It is important to seek out supportive people and situations – people that validate your grief and take it seriously. For many, pet loss support groups or on-line chat rooms are extremely helpful. Using one or more continuing bonds expressions that provide comfort may be another source of support for grieving pet parents.

Over time, you may wish to open up your heart to another companion animal. The love you experience for your new pet will be accompanied by the fond memories you hold of your deceased pet.

“To live in the hearts we leave behind, is not to die.” ~Poet Thomas Campbell, circa 1888

Wendy Packman 2011

Wendy Packman

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Wendy Packman, JD, PhD is a Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University( PAU) and holds clinical appointments at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Stanford University. She is the Director of the Joint JD-PhD Program in Psychology and Law at PAU and Golden Gate University Law School. She is admitted to the State Bar of California and is a licensed psychologist in California. Dr. Packman received her clinical training at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Judge Baker Children’s Center, and the Division of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, UCSF. Her research interests and publications include studies of the psychological effects of bone marrow transplant on donor and non-donor siblings, psychological interventions for siblings of cancer patients, and psychological issues faced by children and young adults with inborn errors of metabolism. In the area of psychology and the law, research interests include ethical and legal issues in child and pediatric psychology, risk management with suicidal patients and malpractice. Dr. Packman has studied, presented and written extensively on sibling bereavement and continuing bonds, the impact of a child’s death on parents, and the psychological sequellae of pet loss. She is the primary investigator of an international cross-cultural study examining the continuing impact of a pet’s death and she is a co-investigator exploring the use of continuing bonds in pet loss.

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