The First Stage: Denial
Denial is the initial response of many pet owners when confronted with a pet’s terminal condition or sudden death. This rejection seems to be the mind’s buffer against a sharp emotional blow.
The Second Stage: Bargaining
This stage is well documented in the human grieving process. Many times, faced with impending death, an individual may “bargain” – offering some sacrifice if the loved one is spared. People losing a pet are less likely to bargain. Still, the hope that a pet might recover can foster reactions like, “If Rover recovers, I’ll never skip his regular walk…never put him in a kennel when I go on vacation… never…”
The Third Stage: Anger
Recognizing anger in the grief process is seldom a problem; dealing with anger often is. Anger can be obvious, as in hostility or aggression. On the other hand, anger often turns inward, emerging as guilt. Many veterinarians have heard the classic anger response, “What happened? I thought you had everything under control and now you’ve killed my dog!” Another standard: “You never really cared about Rover. He was just another fee to you, and I’m the one who has lost my pet!”
Such outbursts help relieve immediate, frustrations, though often at the expense of someone else. More commonly, pet owners dwell on the past. The number of “If only…” regrets is endless: “If only I hadn’t left the dog at my sister’s house…” “If only I had taken Kitty to the veterinarian a week ago…” Whether true or false, such recriminations and fears do little to relieve anger and are not constructive. Here, your veterinarian’s support is particularly helpful.
The Fourth Stage: Grief
This is the stage of true sadness. The pet is gone, along with the guilt and anger, and only an emptiness remains. It is now that the support of family and friends is most important-and, sadly, most difficult to find. A lack of support prolongs the grief stage. Therefore, the pet owner may want to seek some help from their veterinarian, pet cemeterian, or from a professional counselor.
It is normal, and should be acceptable, to display grief when a companion animal dies. It is helpful, too, to recognize that other pet owners have experienced similar strong feelings, and that you are not alone in this feeling of grief.