We are a nation of pet lovers with around 50% of the population owning an animal. According to the latest PDSA’s PAW report around 24% own a cat and 26% a dog – here’s a link to their latest survey if you want to check it out in more detail https://www.pdsa.org.uk/get-involved/our-campaigns/pdsa-animal-wellbeing-report.
These stats in isolation do not reflect the myriad of reasons that families decide to choose a pet for themselves. And it is with these thoughts in mind that I wanted to highlight the many positive mental and emotional effects that pets can have on our wellbeing and also to highlight an often ignored issue – grief over the loss of a pet.
It truly is a joy to own a pet and make them part of our family, with the resulting fun, giggles, antics and learning about another little personality we have just adopted into our homes. (Can you tell I have been a pet owner for many years ??) Apparently, even stroking an animal can have a multitude of health benefits too. Most of us will be able to share precious stories of our beloved pets as we grew up.
However, when you have never owned a pet it can seem incredulous to you to see grown adults crying, sobbing and feeling deep pain for days, weeks and even years. Yet most of us will readily admit we have either seen this or experienced it in our lifetime. My husband and I had a very close friend of over 40 years, a grown man in his sixties, dissolve into grief and depression over the loss of his beloved cat. We too had experienced loss ourselves over our family pets over the years, and so it was not too difficult to understand his feelings. Pets become our family!! Yes, we know, they are not of the human species, but if we invest a huge amount of love, compassion, friendship into our pets, we can become similarly overwhelmed with our feelings at the loss of our pet.
When the worst happens, what are some of the things we can do to alleviate the distress? Here are a few suggestions.
- Do not let anyone else tell you how to feel or even yourself. Remember grief is normal and only you know how it has affected you.
- Feeling sad, shocked or really lonely is a normal part of that grieving process. Do not be embarrassed to let others see or know how you are feeling.
- The grieving process does not have a timetable – so do not try to force or rush things. Accept the feelings of grief for what they are, and take your time to allow those feelings to unfold gradually.
- Reach out to others who have lost pets, as they will often be the first ones to identify with your feelings – this can make you feel less alone.
- Some people may want to create a legacy – a scrapbook, planting a tree, or anything you feel would help you to celebrate the life of your pet.
- Make sure to look after yourself as this can be an emotionally draining time and can often trigger off other feelings which can make you feel overwhelmed. So talk to others, reach out for help if you need it. This grief is real and let no-one tell you otherwise!
During this year of 2020 and the Corona virus still ravaging the world, please be mindful of others who have lost their pets and do not dismiss their feelings – you may make a huge difference to someone else’s life just by being there for them, giving them a listening ear and being patient with them as they struggle to recover from their grief.