May 31, 2006
It is hard for someone who has not had a pet to fathom the intensity of feelings that arise when someone's pet dies. Why is the loss felt so deeply? Well, to begin with, the little critters, usually dogs and cats, become an integral part of our lives. We are creatures of habit; we live by schedules and appointments and divide our days into pretty much the same rhythms and routines. Our animals are even more creatures of habit. They blend with those rhythms and routines and build in their little hopes and expectations to form a fabric of relationships and interdependencies.
In an article in the Psychotherapy Networker about pet loss, a psychologist, Wallace Sife, who heads the non profit Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, says that "over a half million people have visited the association's web site in the last 8 years and that 20,000 have gone to the chat room to talk with pet-bereavement counselors and fellow mourners."
It is true that our connections with our animal friends is not as thorny and puzzling as with other humans, but that in no way means that it is not as deep and intense. Perhaps precisely because it is bereft of the usual complications that beset human relationships, it can be so much more direct and free from the negative feelings that can poison and harden our hearts with other humans. Sife notes in his book The Loss of a Pet, "We bond with pets in a way we can't with another human. For many people, it's like sharing a secret soul. The pet reminds us of our own purity and innocence, which we seldom feel free showing to other people."
Out here on the East End there are so many older Americans, couples and people who have lost their spouses. Animals play a real role in brightening the lives of these people. I know personally because my wife sees this first hand as a visiting psychiatric nurse and often comments on the place of animals in the lives of older folks. Additionally, she has been in the work of animal rescue for many years and has personally helped to place hundreds of animals with families and with many older people in this area. The joy and uplifting emotions that enter a person's life with the arrival of an animal friend can be literally life extending because it creates a reason to live, to nourish and to interact with the world. Studies have shown the positive effects of animals on older people and in fact on people of all ages.
Thus the loss of a pet, of a creature whose presence has been generally seen as a complete positive reality for the family or person can be much more intense than that of losing a relative or friend at times. It just reflects the quality of the feelings that have been created over time with that pet. For anyone wanting to explore their feelings, there is a website www.aplb.org or www.petloss.ca where advice and help is available. Let me know about your experiences.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a life and marital coach with offices in Hampton Bays and Garden City. His seminars, Putting Minds In Motion, are designed to encourage growth, happiness and flourishing in life's endeavors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.