K9 Corner: Grief over pet loss understandable

July 14, 2004|HELEN PALMER

Having had two discussions recently with readers who are dreading the deaths of their terminally ill pets, I decided to repeat my column written in 2000.

Having buried nine of my animals over the past 30-plus years, I realize that many friends who would rally to the grief of a person who had lost a family member, think that the loss of a pet is inconsequential. One caller stated, "You are the only person who would understand."

To quote from Kitty Henderson's Norwich column titled "Dealing with Pet Loss" published in the February (2000) issue of the American Kennel Gazette, "Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural. Don't let anyone tell you it's silly, crazy or overly sentimental to grieve. Your pet was a source of comfort and companionship, of unconditional love and acceptance, of fun and joy, don't be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a relationship."


I would like to emphasize the part of unconditional love and acceptance. During my biannual visits to New York City I saw street people wandering down the sidewalk or sleeping on a park bench, their loving dog right beside them.

Like their owners, these dogs were wary of people approaching them and found security only in the company of their masters. Some of these people appeared ill and malnourished and their pets mirrored their owners' condition.

Still you could see the unconditional love and acceptance of the lifestyle of the owner.

I, for one, appreciate my pets as companions. Not only are they my responsibility, but they have assisted me for 30 years in my volunteer work with the 4-H programs. When I say pets, I mean that both dogs and cats have helped me teach the pre-veterinary science programs and the dog classes. When one of these animals dies, a void appears that takes months to fill because the replacement has to adjust to my lifestyle and be socialized and trained in order to do the work of its predecessor.

But the owner isn't the only one devastated by the death of a pet. If there are other animals in the family they may be affected too. When my oldest dog died a few years ago, I was concerned that it took six weeks for the youngest dog to recover. He stopped eating and would refuse to go into the back yard for necessary exercise unless he was on leash. To prevent that from happening when the next oldest dog died, I purchased a puppy to bond with the sensitive dog and keep him entertained until he forgot that he missed the older pack member. When the time came, he was despondent for three days only when the pup left him alone. After that period he was his happy self again.

Henderson says, "Don't try to avoid grief by not thinking of your pet. Instead, reminisce about the good times. Talk to someone about how much the pet meant to you."

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