One of my main areas of expertise is bereavement counselling, although my practice is by no means limited to this. I have had clients in the past whose death of their pet has hit them very badly, especially if there is another loss they are struggling to deal with. When I noticed an online pet bereavement course I signed up straight away. I have just passed the first module, and wanted to share that assignment with you;
Our cat Trundle, who has the habit of sneaking into my counselling room for a cat nap.
We had our first cat five years ago and have been amazed how much love I feel for this animal. I had a taste of what it would be like to lose him when three years ago he cut a ligament in his leg. My fear was the op to repair it would cost too much and we would have to consider the heart breaking option of having him put down. Fortunately we could afford it, the op was done and Trundle was cage bound for a number of weeks. Although he was still with us he wasn’t doing his usual routine. I so missed when I opened the front door and would hear a loud plod, then quieter plods as Trundle would jump down off a bed and make his way to the top of the stairs. His adorable squeaks as he comes down the stairs, that I would imagine him telling me what he’s been up to, and asking me if I’d had a good day. The house felt so empty, even though he was in the back room.
When I read about the science behind pets and their owners it helped me understand why and how that love for my cat has come about. I am sure that I experience the production of oxytocin (the ‘love’ hormone) and endorphins (‘feel good’ hormones) in my brain when I look and interact with him.
A pet can become a part of a family, or make a family for a single person. They can become a friend and even confidant. The more positives there are for having a pet, the greater the loss, and devastation, when a pet dies.
There is also a loss of routine, which I experienced when my cat was on cage rest. It isn’t just about losing a pet, it’s about losing a whole routine that comes with the pet. Having a routine gives us security, reduces stress, facilitates relaxation and helps us feel in control. Part of the grieving is about adjusting to a new life without the beloved pet.
When we are grieving it’s so important we have the support and understanding of our friends and family. For many people they ‘don’t get’ the attachment we have had to our pets, and can say tactless and painful things like ‘it was only a dog’ or ‘you can get another one’. I have started this course to be able to show people that it is ok to feel a whole range of feelings about an animal and its death, just like they would losing a human loved one. That the feelings of sadness, emptiness, guilt, regret, confusion, anger and loneliness are just as valid for the loss of an animal as it is for the loss of a human.
What do you think? Are you an animal person or someone who would say 'it's only a dog'?