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I met a lady and asked her about her family she said, "My children have four paws. My grandchildren have fur. My dog is smarter than any honour student.”

Whether boasted on a bumper sticker or proclaimed aloud, these phrases capture the importance people place on their relationships with their pets. Indeed, the relationship between human and animal is special.

 

The loss of a pet is devastating, and many pet owners find the grief associated with the loss of a pet just as or even more challenging than the loss of human loved ones.

 

DO PETS GRIEVE?

 

What many people find hard to believe is that animals can form very firm attachments with each other. Even pets that outwardly seem to barely get along will exhibit intense stress reactions when separated. In fact, grieving pets can show many symptoms identical to those experienced by the bereaved pet owner. The surviving pet(s) may become restless, anxious and depressed. There may also be much sighing, along with sleep and eating disturbances. Often, grieving pets will search for their dead companions and crave more attention from their owners.

 

Grief is probably the most confusing, frustrating and emotional thing that a person can experience. It is even more so for pet owners. Society in general does not give bereaved pet owners "permission" to grieve openly. Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated and alone. Luckily, more and more resources are becoming available to help the bereaved pet owner realize that they are NOT alone and that what they are feeling is entirely normal.

 

You have a lot of love to give that can now be rechanneled. It is a very individual and personal decision if and when to invite another pet into your life. Realize that sharing your love with another animal is not a betrayal of your beloved pet. Opening your home and heart to another animal can be a way to honour your past pet. If you are unable or not ready to do so, consider volunteering your time or resources at an animal shelter or rescue. Do something to celebrate the life of your furry friend.

 

Pets are dependent upon us and are, in a sense, like perpetual “furry children.” Our pets derive their food, shelter, affection and entertainment directly from us just like children. The deep love and intimacy of that bond does not change as our pets get older. Our pets do not move off to college, get married, and start families of their own. We are their entire world. And, for some of us, they are ours. To lose this very special type of relationship rivals or surpasses bereavement of other types, and can constitute a trauma in the life of the human left behind.

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