For most pet owners, pets are family members, being no different from our relatives, be they our kids, our significant other, or our elders.
Our pets are an integral part of our lives. The bond of love between a pet and its owner is mutual and unconditional. Losing a pet hurts immensely because our furry creatures love us as much as we love them. Losing them is hard.
I remember a phone call from my brother some years ago.
Our German Shepherd, Axel, had turned 14 years old and 6 months earlier had become suffering from hip dysplasia, which is, unfortunately, quite common in pure breed german shepherds. He could no longer evacuate properly, walk or stand on four legs, and things were getting worse. At that time, Axel was at my brother’s house while I lived in the Alps, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from my brother’s home.
A phone call
It was almost midnight, and I was ready to sleep when my phone rang. My brother was calling me. That phone call caught me by surprise because it was too late to be a courtesy call, so I worried a bit and immediately answered the phone. “If you want to see Axel still alive, you should hurry up. He’s worsening, and I’m not sure he can make it till tomorrow,” my brother said. “I’m coming,” I replied. Suddenly, I closed home in twenty seconds, jumped in the car, and drove to my brother’s home to salute our loved dog for the last time.
Axel was in a terrible state when I arrived at my brother's house. He was almost unable to move, and things were worsening. He could no longer lift and stand on his four legs, and his whole body was shaking. I'm sure he was sort of...crying. It was devastating.
Suddenly, his imperial beauty and dignity were sinking into the depths of his illness. He was the pale shadow of the powerful dog he used to be.
When I saw Axel, he was almost dying, and surely he did not want to live any longer. His suffering was clear even to a blind person. You could see it, feel it. I could only have sorrow and grief because seeing him in those conditions made me sad. Those who have had a dog, a cat, or whatever kind of pet (not including an alligator…) know what I’m talking about. I spare you the saddest part of this story.
One of the only certainties in life that we have is that we die. Physically die, I mean. We know that our pet is going to die one day or another, but we are not mentally prepared for when the time comes.
The time we spend with our loved furry animals is quality time.
Sometimes, it is even more exciting than spending time with some human beings…From partners during walks to protectors from strangers, a dog can be an ideal companion. If you have other pets like cats, turtles, or a bird, you probably remember and still enjoy their company and uniqueness. They give us so much love that we cannot measure it in terms of ‘quantity’ but rather in terms of ‘quality.’ They warm our hearts, and their loss is a big lacuna in our daily lives. And the feeling would be as painful as losing a family or a friend.
I’ve had friends who confided in me that they grieved more over the loss of their pet than the loss of friends or relatives. It’s not strange at all. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one.
Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet.
That is strange, considering the amount of love that intertwines a human being and their pet. We, as pet owners, should be given a chance to honor them in the most appropriate fashion, be it a ‘traditional’ funeral ceremony or a more intimate ceremony. They deserve our love and our respect once they have passed away.
Psychologist Julie Axelrod has pointed out that the loss of a dog is painful because owners aren’t just losing the pet. It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort, and maybe even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child.
Perhaps if people realized just how strong and intense the bond is between people and their dogs, such grief would become more widely accepted.
This would greatly help pet owners to integrate death into their lives and help them move forward.
It’s no wonder dog owners miss them when they’re gone.