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The Daily Dish Relationships

Here's Why People Need to Be Taken Seriously When Grieving the Death of a Pet

No one wants to hear, "It was just a pet!"

By Marianne Garvey

One thing those SURvers love more than drama is their dogs.

So it was awful when Jax Taylor told Vanderpump Rules fans (and dog lovers) on October 29 that his fiancée, Brittany Cartwright, lost her beloved childhood dog, Maci. She was torn up about the loss. 

He posted a photo of her with her furry BFF, writing: "My baby lost her baby yesterday...Brittany’s little girl Maci Grace was sent to heaven yesterday after a long 17 years with her momma. Please let Britt know you are thinking of her, we all know how much she loves animals/especially her own and will do anything for them, so this has been really tough for her. I love you baby and so did Maci, you will see her again one day I promise."  

Losing a pet can be as bad as any other loss, including losing humans, Jill S. Cohen, a family grief counselor in New York City, told Personal Space.

"We can feel very, very intense grief when a beloved pet dies. A pet is a family member. When any beloved family member dies, those who love him or her grieve. One can grieve as much or even more over the death of a pet as that of a human," Cohen explained.

Why is that?

"With humans, the relationships can be complicated. With pets, they are simple and always satisfying," Cohen said. "There is an unconditional love that a pet provides, where often a human relationship does not necessarily provide that. Also, a pet is reliable and has provided the security and stability through the owner's life which often transcends other relationships. Children may leave home, a spouse may leave or be absent for a period of time. Parents may die. Friendships may drift. But the pet is always there — a source of comfort, a source of continuity in life, of constant companionship, a way for the owner to show love to a living being. A pet also provides a sense of routine for its owner. This may give the owner some consistency in life — feeding, walking, caring for the dog, tending to the pet's needs. The bond between a human and a pet can sometimes be like none other."

There is often a feeling of loneliness that follows after a furry friend dies.

"The pet's absence could result in an empty home, an absence of routine, a feeling of not being needed any longer by the owner. It can also feel like the griever is not getting the attention expected from the loss. It is sometimes considered a disenfranchised loss. It is the kind of loss that does not get as much sympathy, care, or attention from others as does the death of a (human) family member," Cohen says. "The griever may feel like he or she is constantly needing or wanting to emphasize to others that the pet was family."

She brings up a good point, too — there are also few, if any rituals, for the death of a pet. So life is expected to return to normal immediately and you may not have time to grieve properly.

"You still go to work, even if your pet died. Also, your relationship was more private with your pet. Not all of your friends and acquaintances could see and really know the relationship between the griever and the pet. The absence of a funeral, a wake, or the Jewish tradition of a shiva means that the pet owner goes through the loss and the process of mourning alone. A pet loss feels lonely, unsupported, and not valued by others. Also, physically, in cases in which a pet was the main source of personal touch and contact, that creates a loss."

OK, holding back tears. So how can someone work to feel better or get through the grief? Cohen said to create a ritual to honor the pet.

"Hold a gathering for people who knew your pet and would want to share stories or provide company for you during the beginning days of the loss," she says. "Make a photo collage. Frame or share with your friends through email or regular mail. It will tell the story that they may not know about your relationship and love for your pet. Visit friends who have pets and play with the animals. It will bring back the spirit of joy that the animal once provided for you. Consider writing a short story about your pet, to bring his or her character to life. Honor and memorialize occasions — the pet's birthday, or any other occasions in which your pet took on a special role. Also, try to find a pet grief support group to attend. You'll want to be with like-minded people who really understand your feelings of loss on a deeper level."

And finally, to those insensitive people who like to say, "eh, it's just a pet," here's what you can say.

"Respond with an honest and authentic answer," Cohen advised. "My pet was extraordinarily special to me. Our bond was unique and so tight. You might think of it as my pet, but I considered that pet to be a family member. Unless you were in our daily life together, you probably wouldn't be able to use the word 'just' to label my pet. Yes, a pet is not a human, but a pet provides so many beautiful qualities that humans provide, and sometimes more. If you ever have a pet that you fall in love with, you'll understand that the word 'just' is absolutely untrue."

She also said to ask the person to try for a minute to understand the value that you placed on your relationship with your pet. 

"That may get them to pause for a moment, and really try to understand it. It might be your job to help them start to rethink the importance and pain of pet loss. And that could be a gift you are giving to the next person they meet who suffers the loss of a pet."

Credit: Brittany Cartwright/Instagram

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