Grief for a pet can be stronger than for a person, and that’s okay

(ORDO NEWS) — Many pet owners know that our emotional bonds with animals can be on par with those we share with other people, and scientific research supports this.

The key components of human attachment are the perception of another person as a reliable source of comfort, the desire to find him in difficult times, the feeling of pleasure from his presence and longing for him in separation. Researchers have determined that this is also true of our relationship with pets.

But there are also difficulties. Certain groups of people are more likely to form close relationships with their pets. These include lonely elderly people, people who have lost trust in people, and people who rely on helper animals.

The researchers also found that bonding with our furry, scaly, and feathered friends comes at the cost of mourning the loss of our pets. But some aspects of grieving for pets are unique.

For many people, the death of a pet may be the only experience of grief associated with euthanasia.

Feelings of guilt or doubt about the decision to euthanize a dear companion animal can complicate grief. For example, studies have shown that family disagreements over whether or not to euthanize an animal can be particularly severe.

But euthanasia also gives people the opportunity to prepare for the care of a beloved animal. There is an opportunity to say goodbye and plan the last moments to express love and respect, for example, a favorite dish, a joint evening or a last goodbye.

People react differently to pet euthanasia. An Israeli study found that after the death of a euthanized animal, 83 percent of people believe they made the right decision. They believe that they gave their animal a more dignified death that minimized suffering.

However, a Canadian study found that 16 percent of study participants whose pets were euthanized “felt like killers.”

And American studies have shown how difficult decision-making can be: 41 percent of study participants felt guilty, and 4 percent experienced suicidal thoughts after they agreed to euthanize their animal.

Cultural beliefs, the nature and intensity of their relationships, attachment styles, and personality traits influence how people feel about pet euthanasia.

This type of loss is still less socially acceptable. This is the so-called disenfranchised grief, which refers to losses that society does not fully appreciate or ignore. This makes it difficult to grieve, at least in public.

Psychologists Robert Neumeier and John Jordan say disenfranchised grief is the result of a failure of empathy. People deny their own grief because some part of their soul finds it shameful.

It’s not just about holding your own in the office or in the pub. People may feel that pet grief is unacceptable for some members of their family or for the family as a whole.

And on a broader level, there may be a discrepancy between the depth of grief for an animal and social expectations associated with the death of animals. For example, some people may react with disdain if someone misses work or takes time off to mourn a pet.

Research shows that when people experience the loss of a pet, disenfranchised grief makes it difficult for them to find solace, post-traumatic growth, and healing.

Disenfranchised grief appears to inhibit emotional expression, making it difficult to process.

Our relationships with pets can be just as meaningful as the ones we share with each other. The loss of our pets is no less painful, and our grief reflects this.

There are aspects of grief over pets that we must recognize as unique. If we can accept the death of pets as a form of bereavement, we can alleviate human suffering. After all, we are only human.


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