The Importance of Validating Grief Related to a Pet’s Death

A family pet fills many roles. People acquire pets for protection, camaraderie, security, and, for those who are disabled, even assistance with physical tasks. But pets have become much more than just servants to their masters. They have been woven into the fabric of the family. For people without children, pets can serve as surrogates, providing something to dote on and care for. Many older individuals adopt a pet when they lose their spouses, thus providing companionship and buffering against feelings of loneliness and isolation. Children tend to bond with pets much as they would with their siblings and parents, with an unconditional love that rivals that of any other attachment. Thus, the epithet “man’s best friend” quite accurately describes how beloved and cherished a pet can be. When a pet dies, the sense of grief and loss can be devastating. But, sadly, many people experience what is known as disenfranchised grief when their pets pass away.

Because a pet is an animal and not a human being, the grief that is felt when a pet dies is not always validated as legitimate grief. Similar to the grief experienced when a person commits suicide or dies from AIDS, the grief felt from the loss of a pet is not overtly recognized in society. Because of this, people who mourn the loss of their pet in secret and do not feel permitted to exhibit the depth of their feelings may have unresolved grief.

Millie Cordaro of the Department of Psychology at Texas State University-Round Rock believes it is essential for counselors to acknowledge a client’s grief and help address it. Cordaro suggests that counselors take direction from general grief scales in order to identify whether a client is at risk for disenfranchised grief. She recommends educating clients about this type of grief and why it occurs. “Giving clients such a psycho-educational overview of disenfranchised grief offers an initial opportunity to affirm and normalize the bereavement,” Cordaro said. Having insight into the process that occurs when clients lose a pet will allow counselors to better help clients overcome such a loss.

Reference:
Cordaro, Millie. Pet loss and disenfranchised grief: Implications for mental health counseling practice. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 34.4 (2012): 283-94. Print.

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  • gizzy mommy

    gizzy mommy

    November 20th, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    After my Gizmo died, it has been so hard to get thru it.
    People don’t believe how sad this has made me and they try to make me get another pet.
    But I don’t want another pet- that was my baby and no other pet will ever replace that.
    Too many people think that it shouldbe easy to get over, that he was just a dog.
    But he was mine and I miss his big sloppy kisses when I come home at night.
    Sometimes I think he loved me more than anyone else does.
    So sad today

  • TED

    TED

    November 21st, 2012 at 5:05 AM

    many of us who have lost close family pets who meant so much to us are often afraid to show other people how much it hurts because we are afraid that we will be made to feel stupid for caring that much for an animal. That alone makes you go inward and fail to process the emotions that you are really feeling at the time. That is never a healthy scenario.

  • M.K

    M.K

    November 21st, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Never had a pet myself but I can certainly relate to this situation when you want to grieve but cannot.I do not wish to go into details about that but it can be so hard when you feel like crying out due to what happened but those around you think the loss was too little.Its like adding insult to the injury :(

  • rupert

    rupert

    November 22nd, 2012 at 12:11 AM

    while I’m not an animal lover myself,I think validating grief of any kind is very important.no matter what the reason,if it is enough to cause grief to the person then it is necessary that it is validated.otherwise the person may be left feeling further worse.

  • nolan

    nolan

    November 22nd, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    well I get it if you are an older person whose only companion was your pet, or a child who loved the pet dearly, but grownups? come one! its not like another pet is not going to fill that void. you want to cuddle your pet? you can do the same to your new pet too. its not like a family member passed away, lets be honest, there’s a vast difference between the two.

  • javier p

    javier p

    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    nobody wants too lose even a thing that they feel attached to, so how can some people say pets don’t really matter or that another one can fill its place??even a special gift from someone getting lost can pull a person down so how can a living, breathing pet going away not push someone into grief?

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