Pet Loss and Bereavement

June 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm
pet-lossBy Adam Clark, Clinical Counselor Intern at the Argus Institute

Photos by CSU Photography, Communication and Creative Services, Colorado State University

The love a companion canine brings to us and our family can be profound and beautiful. It is a love and joy that seems so pure, as they rush to greet us every day at the front door when we come home. Even if we leave for just a moment, we commonly receive that same warm reception upon simply returning to a room. The very act of sharing our lives and caring for our canine friends creates a strong and lasting bond. Through the regular ups and downs of life our dog friends are always with us: a sloppy kiss, a warm nuzzle, those innocent eyes looking at us to play.

As a puppy, our new family members bring us unconditional joy, innocence, and playfulness, those very things we may forget about practicing in our own day to day lives. They explore, play, love and learn about their new families and environment. It is simply impossible to not smile as they live their lives to the fullest, commonly reminding us to do the same. If we are lucky, we can have the honor of watching our companions grow old with us. Each additional experience with our beloved canines creates a deeper and lasting bond between our hearts and theirs.

It makes complete sense then, that when the time comes to say goodbye to our companions, or if they grow frail or sick, our hearts can truly hurt. As a Clinical Counselor Intern at the Argus Institute at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, I spend many hours in the presence of such hurting human hearts. Each one of us forms a distinct bond with our beloved canine. A terrible diagnosis, a sudden injury or accident, frailty and growing old, or the sudden loss of our beloved companion can trigger immense pain, sadness, and insecurity that is unique to each of us.

Unfortunately, these times in our lives can be extremely scary. Tough choices, such as coming to terms with the end of our companion’s life and whether or not it is the right time for euthanasia, can bring up a severe emotional response within us.

Facing these emotions can be difficult. Know, however, that we truly grieve as much as we have loved. In grief, our hearts can feel torn, our very bodies hurt, and we can feel immensely confused and overwhelmed.

We live in a fast-paced society, and it can appear during this time that the world speeds up and doesn’t give us a chance to experience our grief. We may even hear from well intentioned friends to “get another pet” or “it was just a dog.”

Grief is a journey everyone has to go through in life, whether it is over the loss of a human companion or a beloved canine. It is important to draw on the support of loved ones, friends, and family during this time. It is also important to discover or continue positive methods of emotional relief, such as journaling, taking a long bath, going on a hike, or spending time with friends.

Sometimes within our intense state of grief, we can feel out of control with our emotions, experiencing intense periods of sadness, crying, anxiety, distress, anger, and even desperation. Unfortunately, there is no “prescribed” timeframe for grief, and the time it takes to feel relief differs for everyone. Feeling deep pain and hurt represents a normal part of the process. If you have experienced multiple losses within your life, memories of these experiences can come back to the surface and compound your grief. Sometimes, having a professional to guide you through the process can prove extremely beneficial.

Resources do exist to support you during these hard times of experiencing grief and loss or making difficult decisions on behalf of your companion. The Argus Institute has supported individuals in times like these for 30 years. Locate their resources at Argus counselors have specialized training in pet loss and bereavement and are available Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to help you or a loved one through these difficult times.