Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Keeping our Hearts OpenPublished January 8, 2010
Pet loss is always terribly painful. The other day I received an email from a dear friend who was grieving over the sudden and unexpected loss of her very beloved Goldfish, Caesar. While reading her words, it somehow felt to me that she was wondering if anyone could appreciate her pain, since he was "only a fish".
Her grief inspired me to write more globally about pet loss as it is something that most people who live with companion animals have already experienced or ultimately will.
Losing a beloved pet, no matter what species; whether it is a furry, feathered or finned companion animal, the loss is one of the most difficult and painful experiences. To compound our grief are the well-meaning but ignorant people that tell us, "It's just an animal, get over it."
Many of us then feel shame and a desperate sense of disconnection from those people to whom we may turn at this most delicate time. It is hard enough for us to sort out our feelings at the loss of our pet without that sense of betrayal on top of our grief.
At times like those, my thoughts strayed to memories of a great race horse, one that became the "people's horse."
Barbaro; one of the most brilliant and talented, undefeated race horses in our lifetime, was euthanized after a long struggle to save his life. Following a spectacular win at the Kentucky derby in 2006, Barbaro tragically broke down at the start of the Preakness Stakes.
He was quickly rushed to the New Bolton Center at the Pennsylvania Veterinary College. His fight to survive soon became an icon of courage to millions of devoted fans who constantly followed his progress. Prayers for his recovery poured out to Barbaro and those caring for him, from all over the world. Online nightly vigils were held to support his recovery while at the same to reach out to those who loved him so much.
When his pain became intractable, with the likelihood of his recovery dimmed, he was gently sent to the Rainbow Bridge surrounded by his loving family, to release him from his suffering.
But it was not only horse lovers who grieved deeply over this pet loss; all animal lovers that had become acquainted with Barbaro's story felt an abiding and deep love for the magnificent horse. They too mourned.
Quoting a woman I highly admire, Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owner and breeder, these eight powerful and insightful words she said while she talked about her own feelings about Barbaro's loss, "Certainly Grief is the price we all pay for love", captures the essence of the deep and abounding relationship that develops between a human and a pet, if we only are willing to experience both the joy and the sorrow.
It's good to remember as many of us are tempted to barricade our hearts to relationships with other pets in our effort to avoid further pain over pet loss? Personally I think that it is far more painful to close our hearts to the glorious opportunity, in its time, to the unconditional love that our animal companions offer us.
Surely I think that our beloved pets who have died wish us to keep our hearts open to other pets. In fact, I truly believe that they magically send other pets who need us.
Those who love animals get so attached to all living creatures that ultimately wend their way into our hearts. I think we are chosen to care for all creatures that God has created and those of us that truly love animals will take that risk to remain open and place them into their hearts.
The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different. ~ Hippocrates
Take a moment to watch this beautiful, moving video on the loss of a pet and the Rainbow Bridge uploaded to YouTube by humanityhealing. Music: John Denver & Placido Domingo, "Perhaps Love"
How would you console a friend who is grieving over the loss of a pet? Please share your thoughts.
For more on coping with the loss of a pet: