The loss of a pet can be traumatic. The Humane Society of the United States reports that pet ownership has tripled from the 1970s and that approximately 62 percent of American households have at least one pet.
So it’s natural to think that the loss of a pet can affect its owners profoundly.
“In many ways the impact of, reactions to, and feelings associated with the loss of a pet often are much the same as when we experience a human loss,” said Tracy Haskell, MSW, LCSW, a clinical social worker who works in private practice in Ellsworth.
Haskell has 17 years of experience in social work, and her experience started with her work at a domestic violence agency. In her own private practice, she recognized the therapeutic needs of people experiencing the loss of a pet.
“Accepting such a loss, or change, and learning to live with joy in one’s life can be challenging tasks, the grief can be felt intensely,” she said. “Some people will describe the loss of a pet as the greatest loss they have experienced,” she said.
Mourning a pet is as important as mourning a human, Haskell noted. Feeling sadness, anger, or other psychological or physical effects of grief is normal, she said, and should not be repressed or dismissed just because it is a pet that has passed.
Making the choice to have a beloved pet euthanized can make the feelings of grief even more profound. Local veterinarians emphasize the importance of being an active partner in the decision to set a pet free from pain.
“Our grief becomes even more complicated when we start to feel embarrassed that we are still feeling such sorrow, which may lead to an inability to express our feelings openly,” Haskell said.
She recommends that pet owners who are having difficulty coping with the loss or who lack a support system that can empathize with their feelings should seek support.
“Seeking professional help does not mean grieving owners are in need of psychiatric help,” she said. “Often it is simply a need for some compassionate person to travel the path with you, assist you in coming to terms, accepting if you will, the loss of your pet, assisting you to re-discover the joy in living and perhaps even to help decide when it is time to, or even if to, get another pet.”
Know, too, that other household pets can grieve, and that is normal. Establishing a routine and being empathetic to the feelings of all creatures in your home is crucial.
There are many ways of honoring a pet that has passed away. Creating a scrapbook, writing in a journal, holding a memorial, and creating a keepsake that will honor the memory of the pet are just some of the myriad ways pet owners cope.
For more information on how to deal with the death of a pet, visit the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement at aplb.org or the ASPCA’s Pet Loss page at aspca.org/pet-care/pet-loss.
To contact Haskell, call 664-2994.