You’re Not Alone – Pet Grief is Real
Part 2: Overcoming the Loss of Your Beloved Pet
Tracie Bluse Ward
Very Real Symptoms & Coping Strategies
This week, Sydney and I spoke to our friend and pet lover psychologist Shelly Poore to begin to understand some of the very real symptoms of pet grief and to explore meaningful ways she has helped her clients overcome the loss of a beloved pet. While she does not promote herself as a pet grief therapist, I was surprised when she told me that many of her everyday patients suffer from mild to severe depression resulting from the loss of their pet. Even more so, I was touched by the number of patients that she said felt guilty or apologized for feeling such sadness associated with pet grief. I wondered what could create this type of reaction when we don’t typically feel guilty or apologize when a person in our life passes on.
It seems that as a society we are only halfway there when it comes to our pet emotional intelligence. Most people have no problem today recognizing the deep love and affection we humans express for our best pet friends. We can even understand the emotional ties that lead a person to refer to their pet as their baby or child. However, outside of our true pet lover community, we have not yet fully evolved to the stage where we can empathize and appreciate the true sense of loss humans feel when they lose their beloved pets. As a result, more people are suffering from mild to severe pet loss depression because they feel uncomfortable seeking appropriate help for their grief.
We first need to recognize that as more of us humans create close loving bonds with our pets, the more we are going to feel a terrible loss when they are gone. Therefore, pet grief should be accepted as a natural part of our healing process. As professionals, family members, and friends interacting with a growing population of people suffering from pet loss, we need to offer our support during their grieving process. We also need to learn to recognize the signs of depression and encourage our loved ones to seek appropriate help while reassuring them that their feelings are real.
Coping with Pet Loss Grief and Depression
Recognizing that we all express our emotions differently, I asked Shelly to help me distinguish normal pet loss grief from pet loss depression. She said that typically a person experiences moderate to severe grief for weeks or even a couple of months after the loss of a pet. Grief can be expressed in a range of emotions from sadness, denial, anger, confusion, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and even withdrawal. However, when we notice emotions or behaviors that seem unusual or more severe including an inability to function or take care of ourselves, or we begin talking about ending our life, we need to seek professional help immediately. She warns that we could be suffering from pet loss depression. As with any type of depression, this is a serious condition that needs professional support.
I also asked Shelly for some coping strategies to share with my friends and family when we experience the loss of a beloved pet. Her response again was very helpful.
• Recognize that pet loss grief is normal and an important part of the healing process.
• Allow your grief to surface rather than trying to oppress or bury it.
• You may want to schedule times during the day when you allow yourself to reflect or to feel sad.
• Keep some reminders of your pet visible and even walk the same route you walked with your pet for a while.
• Spend time with other pet lovers as they will understand and provide support to you during your time of grief.
• Give yourself time to heal before you think about another pet.
• If your grief becomes so intense that you cannot function normally, seek help from a pet loss support group or a professional.
Raising our Emotional Intelligence
I hope that with greater awareness and visibility we can raise our emotional intelligence and become more supportive, comforting, and knowledgeable as our loved ones and friends search for meaningful ways to overcome the loss of their beloved pets. Fortunately, we don’t need to learn a new set of social skills, nor do we need professional training to offer effective help. We simply need to take our queues from human loss and respond to pet loss using similar strategies.
• Send a personalized note and condolence card.
• Call or visit that person more frequently.
• Allow them time to express their sadness and grief and listen to their stories about their beloved pet.
• Help them find ways to remember what they most loved about their pet.
• Make sure they are eating, sleeping, and taking care of themselves or provide support where needed.
• Watch for signs of depression and help them find trusted professional help.
Recognize that grieving is a normal part of the healing process. Here are a few supportive resources where you can seek help for pet loss and pet grief:
• Talk to your veterinarian about local resources.
• Search your local yellow pages for pet loss support groups.
• Call your animal humane center for expert resources.
• Talk to a trusted counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist.
• Meet with a group of fellow pet lovers.
Coming Next Week
Next week we’ll share a pet memorial service and My Best Friend Pet Story to remember sweet Marshall. Until then, remember there are thousands of pet lovers experiencing pet grief everyday. Some may even need support for depression. You are not alone. There are many resources ready to help. We wish you strength and comfort for your broken heart.