A professor at the University of San Francisco, Dr. Cori Bussolari, and a professor at Palo Alto University, Dr. Wendy Packman, recently spoke with Dr. Heidi Horsley during the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling about the grief process that follows the loss of a pet. Having just completed a study on pet loss together, Dr. Packman says, “The most immediate thing (a person who has lost a pet needs) is to garner support.” Many times pet loss can be disenfranchised, although that’s improving in the US. You may have people and support networks already in your life that understand how devastating this loss can be—or you may not. However, there are networks out there.
People often get messages like, “Oh, when are you going to get another one?” and pet loss generally isn’t taken as seriously as a “person loss.” However, it can be just as heartbreaking for the pet owner who’s in grief. Minimizing grief is common, so it’s up to the pet owner to seek out pet loss support groups. Just like you want to seek out ways to stay connected to someone who’s died, the same should and can be done for a pet, says Dr. Bussolari.
Grief is Grief
The good news is that understanding pet loss has become a little more universal in recent years, but there’s still a long road ahead. Engaging in rituals, memorials or constructing altars in the home are all great ways to honor a passed pet. However, talking about positive memories is also a great boost. “Sometimes people rank the pets,” says Dr. Bussolari. Ranking pets based on their “worth,” such as comparing dogs and turtles, is sadly common.
Pet loss awareness is a much-needed specialty, and Dr. Horsley commends these two researchers on their work. If you’ve lost a pet, start researching support options today in order to find an avenue for grieving, bearing witness and helping to revere the memories of your loved one.