Why losing a pet is like losing a (human) loved one

The answer is simple: Because pets are loved ones, too. 

A few days ago, a video of a man trying to revive his dogs amid the chaos of a crowd putting out a raging neighborhood fire made the rounds online. 

Rolly Abijay, the owner, was recorded desperately resuscitating his four dogs. Despite his valiant efforts, though, he failed to bring his beloved furry pals back to life. 

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, an anguished Rolly said that he considers his fur babies Kiray, Maui, Kiara, and Luna his closest friends.

Hinahalikan ako sa labi ng mga ‘yan kaya nagagalit ang asawa ko. Sa totoo lang, ngayon lang ako umiyak sa ganyan, kung medyo maaga na nakauwi ako, siguro hinabol ko talaga. Bibitbitin ko,” he said. 

All of us who have ever loved a pet are able to relate to Rolly. As pet owners, we know how completely and utterly devastating it is to have a pet cross the proverbial rainbow bridge. 

Disenfranchised grief

According to BBC Science Focus, bereavement of a pet can be just as traumatic as bereavement of a human family member.

In an article on BBC Science Focus, it was mentioned how several studies have found out that “bereavement of a pet can be just as traumatic as the bereavement of a human family member.”

Citing a study in 2015, the article argued that if we can form equally strong emotional bonds with beloved pets as we do with humans, “it logically follows that we experience similar grief when they die.” 

Despite this, many people don’t look at pet loss as seriously as losing a special someone. Many don’t to understand pet loss and the value that pets hold in a person’s life.

Not everyone has experienced a deep bond with a pet, after all, which might lead some people to dismiss your grief and suggest “just get a new dog/cat.” 

This results in “disenfranchised grief,” the kind of grieving that doesn’t fit in with society’s attitude about dealing with death and loss.  

Many people still don’t look at pet loss as seriously as losing a special someone.

As a result, pet owners might feel like they have to hide their grief or feel embarrassed by it. With their grief invalidated by others, the feeling of loss gets even more magnified, something that has happened to me a few times before as a life-long pet owner. 

I once didn’t feel like going to work after Ok-ok, my pet of 14 years, died—but how do I tell my boss that? I wasn’t too sure then if that was an acceptable reason. 

A bottomless source of love, affection

But it should be. A pet isn’t just an animal. For many of us, they’re a beloved member of the family and an invaluable source of companionship, unconditional love, affection, and comfort. 

Unlike other relationships, according to an article on Self, animals offer “an organic connection that you don’t have to overthink or worry about.” 

Every time I come home to Peanut, he is over the moon to see me—it doesn’t matter if I was gone for 30 minutes or a few days—and I know he’s not lying. He’s just genuinely happy to be with me again.

Pets are loved ones, too; it’s that simple.
Photo from PVHAAS7/Istock/Getty Images Plus/Netflix

You love your pets and they love you back, it’s that simple. That kind of a relationship is a rarity in human relationships which are far more complicated. 

That’s why when the inevitable happens, when you lose this bottomless source of love, affection, and sloppy kisses, it can leave a void in your heart so deep, it’s just like losing a human loved one. 

Because pets are loved ones, too. 

Coping with the loss of a pet

So how do we feel better after the death of a pet? 

If you’re distressed by reminders of your deceased pet, maybe his favorite chew toy or bowl, put them away for a time. If you’re the opposite and you find comfort in seeing some of the items he left behind, then keep them by all means.

Just like losing a (human) loved one, you can’t say for certain how long your grief will last after losing a pet. Photo from Getty Images/NYPost 

The “rainbow bridge” is a popular theme among pet owners because it gives us hope that we will all meet again in the afterlife. Fur parents going through the loss of a pet can take comfort in knowing that they can reunite with their fur babies after they, too, have passed.

If you are feeling guilty because you had a pet euthanized, remind yourself that you’ve already explored all options, that ending your pet’s life was a last resort so they would no longer be in pain.

You can choose to make a memorial for your deceased pet. Photo from wayfair.com

Many owners find comfort in memorializing their pet. More and more people are now having their pets cremated and keeping their ashes in a memorial box or urn.

An article on The Washington Post suggests having a ritual like making a donation to a rescue group or planting a tree in your pet’s honor. You can write a poem or essay/obituary or create a scrapbook with their photos. You can also visit an animal shelter like PAWS in Quezon City, where you can spend time with rescued animals.

As regards moving on, just like losing a (human) loved one, you can’t say for certain how long your grief will last. 

You can cope with your grief by spending time with rescued animals, such as these dashing pooches at the Philippine Animal Welfare Society’s shelter. Photo from PAWS

A 2019 study by Messam and Hart, which was mentioned in an article on Psych Central, studied 82 people who had lost their pets. The results revealed that 25 percent took between 3 and 12 months to accept the loss of their pet, 50 percent between 12 and 19 months, and 25 percent took between 2 and 6 years to recover.

So take your time to heal. As said in the same article, “grief comes when it comes and lasts as long as it needs to.”

Who knows, maybe in time, when you’re ready, you may want to welcome a new furry pal in your life once again. 

The new lifestyle.