Grieving the loss of man’s best friend

By Abigail Keefe
February 14, 2008


A pet is a companion, animal and a lifelong friend. They are reliable, loving and have trust in your loving care. Being a pet owner can give one a sense of responsibility, hope, reason and joy. Losing a family pet, no matter what type it is, has the power to put the owners and family into a state of sadness which no one would want to experience.

There are a number of reasons for the death of a family pet but the cause of the death has very little importance. Facing the reality is the hardest part of all.

Hotlines and counseling centers can be easily accessed by anyone who needs a helping hand. These options are available to those who recently experienced a loss of a pet, those who are having trouble with the grieving process of a pet close to them, or owners who simply need advice.

At the ASPCA’s National Pet Loss Hotline, psychologist Dr. Stephanie LaFarge makes herself available to the phone lines 24 hours a day to assist those in need.

LaFarge specializes in human/animal relationships and the human/animal bond and she does all she can to help callers nationwide.

On average, there are eight to 10 callers a week from those who are seeking advice or therapeutic help.

In an interview with LaFarge, she stated that the most difficult guidance she has to provide to someone who calls the hotline is whether to put an animal down due to health or behavioral reasons. LaFarge says, “About one-third of the people who call me are struggling with the decision as to when to euthanize their dog or cat.”

The emotional strain of losing a pet could start even before the animal has died.

LaFarge said, “Owners observe that their pet is suffering from the effects of old age and disease but they are so reluctant to face their impending grief that they delay the decision and the pet continues to suffer.”

Of course, there is no right way to say goodbye to an animal and there is no “correct way” to grieve the loss either.

As a professional, LaFarge believes that the most important factors to keep in mind while healing the loss is to not pick up bad behavioral habits. It is important to not make any rash decisions such as throwing out memories or getting a new pet right away.

The No. 1 most important attitude to keep during this process is to “accept the fact that if your attachment to the animal has been strong, you may experience intense waves of grief, your home will feel empty and some may even hallucinate the sounds of their pet even when the animal is gone,” LaFarge said.

Pet owners fear not only the death of a pet itself but also the mourning process afterwards. The same questions that we as humans face apply to pets as well. Should there be a little funeral with the immediate family or anyone who was close to the animal? Should we not let our child see it once it has died? Questions can go on and on about the aftermath of it all.

In LaFarge’s opinion, she said it is important for the children to have a part in the process and to let the child see the animal once it has died or been put down.

“Death of loved ones is a part of life. Children benefit from chances to learn how to cope with this inevitability,” LaFarge said. “Pet loss is an excellent way for parents to demonstrate how their family values are exhibited at a time of crisis.”

The tragedy does not only involve larger pets such as dogs or cats. The death of something small such as a fish or a turtle can be devastating to a family or a child as well. Sophomore English and communications major Angel Hardy had a fish die when he was a young child.

“My dad and I had a mini funeral for it,” Hardy said. “I was about seven and thought my fish dying was the end of the world. The funeral really helped me understand the process and cope with the fact my fish had died.”

A pet is a soul to cherish and the memories may be everlasting. Your pet becomes a part of daily life and an addition to your home.

Junior biology major Michele Canavan said, “Pets grow to be members of your family. The reaction of some people is the same as if it was a brother or sister dying. I think it just takes time and a grieving process to get over it. When a pet dies, it is a very sad reality to face.”

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Abigail Keefe

Abigail Keefe is a Cabrini College student studying communications, enjoying her time in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Abbie loves working for the school newspaper, the Loquitur, and is also passionate about everything that the communication field has to offer.

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