Mourning the Death of a Pet
By TARA PARKER-POPE
April 21, 2010 - NEW YORK TIMES
Years ago, I had an orange tabby cat named Dave who was more person than pet.
Sometimes when my husband and I were visiting our neighbors in Houston, we would hear a knock at the door. “It’s probably Dave,” our friends would say, and sure enough, there he was on the step, waiting to be invited in with the rest of us.
When Dave died after being hit by a speeding car, I remember feeling a profound sense of loss and dreaded going to work the next day. “My cat died,” I told my editors, wiping my eyes with a tissue. Even as I explained, I knew I sounded silly to them.
I thought about Dave recently as I was reading an article on PsychCentral.com about the death of a pet. Leigh Pretnar Cousins writes about how she lost so much more than a pet when her 14-year-old silver cat, Luna, died.
I am stunned at how much I miss her and how empty the house feels without her soft round self asleep on the sofa. With her passing goes a chunk of my son Matt’s childhood. He was 10 years old when he selected her out of a box of kittens abandoned at the wildlife center….In Matt’s raising of and caring for Luna, I witnessed an enduring trait in my son: his extraordinary gift for nurturing.
Last year, researchers from the University of Hawaii’s animal science department conducted a study to determine the level of grief and stress that a pet owner experiences when a pet dies. Among 106 pet owners interviewed from a veterinary clinic, 52 percent had lost one or more pets from natural causes, while 37 percent had lost a pet to euthanasia. Although many pet owners experience significant grief when a pet dies, about 30 percent reported grief that lasted six months or longer. Severe grief that resulted in major life disruption was less common but was estimated as high as 12 percent of those studied.
It’s not only animal researchers who are taking note of the grief that occurs when a pet dies. The journal Perspectives in Psychiatric Care noted that the bond between people and their pets can affect both physical and mental health, and that the grief reaction that occurs after a pet’s death is “in many ways comparable to that of the loss of a family member.”
“Unfortunately, the loss of a pet is not recognized consistently by friends, acquaintances or colleagues as a significant or authentic occasion for bereavement,” the journal authors wrote.
When my cat died, the reaction was mixed. One person shrugged and said, “Well, I’m a dog person.” A well-meaning friend fumbled when he asked, “Are you over the cat thing yet?” The best response was from a man I worked with who adored his pet basset hounds. I received a sympathy card in the mail noting that a donation to the local animal shelter had been made in the memory of Dave.
To learn more, read the full PsychCentral post, “When a Beloved Pet Passes Away.”
The Humane Society of the United States
also offers advice on coping with grief after a pet dies.
Please join the discussion. How did you cope with the grief of losing a pet?
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