Pet Loss: Part I

Good Grief

I am honored to be giving a talk tonight for the animal rescue organization, Austin Pets Alive. I will be speaking about pet loss and grief.

The topic of pet loss and grief is an often overlooked and undervalued societal norm. Yet, for some pet owners who are deeply attached to their pets, they will experience real emotional turmoil when their pet companion dies. In fact, the grief that comes from the death of a pet can be just as painful as the grief surrounding the loss of a person.

I would like to share with you some of the information I will be presenting tonight.

In the United States, we spend tens of billions of dollars on pet products each year.  It’s common to see pets included in leisure activities, holidays, and special events. For Halloween this year, there were numerous pets dressed up as pumpkins, witches, and ghosts. Here, in Austin, we have been recognized as the third most dog-friendly city in the nation.

Social conventions allow us to openly dote on our pet companions. In pet-friendly Austin, people are quick to mention that some pets are considered members of the family. What happens, though, when a pet companion dies?

How do others you know  react to the loss of a beloved pet?

How do family and friends react when someone loses their pet?

How did you feel when you lost your pet?

At a broader level, how do prescribed social norms influence the extent to which we grieve and mourn our pets?

The grief that comes with the loss of a pet, or anticipating the loss of a pet, can be real emotional pain. Chances are, the deeper the attachment an individual has to a pet, the stronger the grief reaction. There is a significant disconnect in our society between being able to openly love and care for a pet, and being able to openly mourn a pet’s passing.

One purpose of the talk tonight, is to raise awareness regarding current societal norms about pet loss: the death of a pet is largely  an invalidated grief in our society. I also plan to discuss the grief process for bereaved pet owners, and how to work through the grief.

This post is the first of a series to elucidate the topic of pet loss and grief reactions of bereaved pet owners.


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