What Not To Say To Someone Grieving A Pet

For some of us, we are more of a “Pet Parent” rather than a pet “Owner”.  Unfortunately, this term is not in everyone’s vocabulary or realm of understanding.  Even other animal lovers find it hard to connect with the fact that, to many of us, the animals in our lives are more akin to our companions or children, rather then merely our pets.   Therefore, when we loose one our “Fur babies”, the pain and grief is deep and often overwhelming.  We can’t just “Get over it” or “Get another one” immediately after such a profound loss.

With that in mind, I stumbled upon a wonderful article on Huffingtongpost.com entitled “What Not To Say To Someone Grieving A Pet” written by: Amanda L. Chang.   Below are some excerpts from her article:

Dr. Claire Sharp, an assistant professor in the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine insightfully says, “There are a lot of situations where somebody calls and they had just lost a pet that had been with them for 15 years, and that pet helped them through with a lot of difficult times in their life, like the loss of spouse or child.”

Oftentimes, people who have never been a pet owner before, or are not as “Connected” to their animal companions may say things that are dismissive of the grief, which just makes the grieving person, feel worse. Below, Carol Baldwin, a certified thanatologist and member of the American Association of Death Education and Counseling, and Dr. Claire Sharp share some of the more common phrases you may here — and why they may be hurtful:

“It was just a dog.”
People who make comments like this probably aren’t able to comprehend how the pet was more than just a pet — it was also a companion, Baldwin says.

“Why don’t you just get another one?”
While a person who says this probably means well, it can come off as insensitive. “When a husband dies, [we wouldn't say], ‘Go out and find another one,’” Baldwin says. In fact, she recommends people who have lost a pet to allow themselves time to grieve before going out and getting a new pet, because if you’re not emotionally ready for a new pet, it can be unfair to the new animal. “When that new pet is not behaving like the pet that died … there’s this realization that ‘I can’t get my dog back,’ or ‘I can’t get my cat back,’ and ‘I made a big mistake,’” Baldwin explains. However, Sharp says that there is a way to talk about another, future pet that could be helpful to the person grieving — by mentioning that a new pet can never replace the one who died, but that the grieving person is a wonderful pet owner who can give another animal a wonderful home. In essence, it can allow the grieving person to feel like he or she has permission to think about the next pet. “People sometimes feel guilty even thinking about it, like they’re betraying their old pet,” Sharp explains.

“Wow, you really want to spend $1,500 on a burial site for a dog?”
On top of feelings of grief, people who have lost a pet may also feel like people are judging them based on what they choose to do with regard to the passed pet. And comments like this don’t help. “They start feeling guilty, like maybe they shouldn’t” be spending that much money or go to such great lengths for their pet, Baldwin says.

“How are you still not over it by now?”
Grief is individual. Feelings — and their duration — differ from person to person. For that reason, it’s insensitive to make comments like this that imply that something is wrong with a person because he or she still feels sad about the passing of a pet, Baldwin says. In fact, people may continue to feel sad about a pet’s passing years after the pet has died, particularly on the anniversary of the pet’s death, or on the pet’s birthday.

“Well, we knew that dogs don’t live as long as people do.” or “You knew he was really sick and this was going to happen.”
Sure, people know these things in their minds. But “being reminded of those things when you’re in the throes of horrible grief, that doesn’t help,” Sharp says. “When you’re in the early stages of very severe grief, having someone remind you that this day was going to come — you would never say that to a person” if he or she was grieving over a human death. Instead, say things like “he’s in a better place now,” or “you did the right thing by putting him to sleep because he was suffering,” Sharp suggests. That way, you’re helping the grieving person recognize that the pet was ill, but you’re allowing them to be justified in their actions and emotions.

“Do you really need a counselor to get over a pet?”
There is nothing wrong with needing to seek professional help due to grief over a pet. In fact, it’s “actually quite normal if you’re experiencing grief that you’re finding it hard to move on from,” Sharp says. “[Just] like if you were to lose a family member, grief from pet loss can continue longer than you might want it to.”

On a day like today, National Pet Memorial Day, I hope the information above helps people understand 2 things.  First, there may be friends and family that say the phrases above without the intent of hurting you.  The fact is, they may not understand how you feel because they are not as connected to their pet as you were to yours.  Second, chances are, your friends, family or co-workers are not intentionally trying to be hurtful or insensitive – they may simply not know how to empathize with the depth of your loss or properly communicate their condolences.

President, Family Pet Memorial

One thought on “What Not To Say To Someone Grieving A Pet

  1. I was in such grief having to watch my German Shepard have seizures the night before. She had been a two time cancer survivor for the past two years. God had blessed me with her 13 years before her death almost to the day. After we had her put into rest. The vet. suggested Family Pet Memorial to come and take her and have her cremated. The man that came was very good and compassionate . Treated her with dignity and honor. It made myself and my daughter feel like she would be cared for. I would really like to thank them. I just wish I would of asked them to give us a clip of her hair to put with her ashes.

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