© Copyright APONC 2014
A Silence So Loud—Pet Loss
Darlene Cross, MS, MFT
The phone rang. The caller was a woman, crying so hard it was difficult for her to speak.
“This is embarrassing, but my dog died and I think I might need some counseling.” The woman arrived for her first session
and her story quickly unfolded with horrific details. Her young dog had become ill and she took him to a vet close by. The vet
suspected a terminal illness, drew blood for testing, and advised the woman it would take two weeks to get the results. Only
days later, the vet called with the tragic news. The blood test confirmed the worst and he urged the dog be euthanized as
soon as possible, saying it was “the only humane thing to do.” With a broken heart, the woman reluctantly gave permission
and said her sad good-byes.
Several days later, an unexpected call came from the vet’s office. They’d made a mistake. They mixed up test results and
said they had a legal and ethical obligation to tell the woman her dog’s results had not arrived until after the dog was gone.
The correct diagnosis, in fact, showed a treatable and not terminal illness. Already devastated, she was inconsolable. She
was enraged at the clinic for what they had done. She said she wished they’d never told her the truth. She was riddled with
guilt for not questioning why the results were available so quickly, instead of the anticipated two weeks, as well as for not
getting a second opinion.
While this certainly is not a typical story, and there are many wonderful veterinarians doing great work, the emotions that this
woman experienced and described are not unusual for anyone who is grieving a significant loss. The loss of beloved pet can
be truly devastating and only made worse when those emotions are minimized or dismissed. In this case, even the person
experiencing the loss was “embarrassed” by her own reactions.
What if this had been a human family member, hospitalized and seriously ill, misdiagnosed and removed from life support?
No one would be embarrassed. The grieving family would have the support of their friends and family and community, not to
mention lawyers. The woman who lost her dog came in for counseling alone, needing understanding and non-judgmental
support in a world that too often offers the quick solution, “Get a puppy.”
Grief is not measured by whether the loss is of a pet, a friend, or family member. Grief is measured by the degree of loss,
how much the loved one mattered to us, how much they will be missed, and the degree to which our lives are impacted.
Grieving the loss of a loved one who lived long distance can be especially difficult as day-to- day life can appear unaffected,
until reality pops in with frequent and brutal reminders of the truth. Losing a pet can be the exact opposite in that the
reminders are constant and relentless. You climb out of bed reaching a few extra feet to avoid stepping on or tripping over
your furry friend snoozing close by. You hang your hand over the chair only have it filled with a fuzzy face holding a favorite
toy, demanding to be tossed. Maybe you just can’t remember the last time you got to go to the bathroom alone. Our lives can
be so intertwined with our pets emotionally, cognitively and physically that it simply becomes routine, taken for granted,
Then, one day, too soon, they are gone. The house is too quiet, the silence is too loud. You may still step to the side of the
bed, but only out of habit. You may still feel that fuzzy head in your hand, only to be surprised your hand is empty. And you
may wish for the bathroom companionship you once found so annoying.
If you are grieving the loss of your pet, here are some tried and true suggestions you may find helpful:
Find fellow pet lovers to support you.
Avoid anyone who attempts to question, criticize or fix your pain.
Make no apologies for your sadness that is just as valid as another person’s sadness; grief is not a competition.
If someone asks you what’s wrong and you don’t want to go into details, usually a simple “someone in my family died”
will suffice, and it is the truth.
Consider having your own ritual to say good-bye, maybe releasing balloons or scattering ashes somewhere special.
Put a favorite picture that makes you smile where it is often and easily seen.
Stay out of pet shops where there are radars that identify grieving pet owners as prime targets for the next big sale.
Be gentle and patient with yourself and know the pain will slowly be replaced by happy memories that will be yours
A man, who admitted he was not an animal lover, once said to me he thought we dog people must be masochists. He could
not understand why we would open ourselves to love our dogs so much knowing their lives are so short and how much we
suffer when we lose them. Clearly this deprived man knew nothing about puppy breath, silly games of Keep Away, cute
wiggly butts put into motion only because you walked into the room, or what it is like to be unconditionally accepted and
adored. My answer came quickly and easily. We endure the sadness at the end of their lives in exchange for all the joy,
laughter, love and companionship they bring us every year, every day, every minute we have together.
Darlene F. Cross, MS, MFT, Inc.
Author of Amazon Bestseller
A New Normal: Learning to Live with Grief and Loss
© 2013 by Darlene F. Cross
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