Animal Loss: Myths and Realities

  1. Myth: There is nothing special about the relationship between animals and humans.
  2. Myth: Losing an animal is less painful and less significant than losing a human loved one.
  3. Myth: Having close relationships with animals (and grieving at their loss) is abnormal and unnatural.
  4. Myth: Relationships we have with animals are not as important as those we have with humans.
  5. Myth: Death of a pet can be a useful dress rehearsal for the real thing, especially for children.
  6. Myth: Most pet owners think of euthanasia as a quick and easy way to get rid of their sick, dying, old or unwanted animals.
  7. Myth: Conducting rituals, funerals or memorial services for dead animals is a frivolous waste of time and money, and those who engage in such practices are eccentric and strange.

Reality: Our relationships with animals can be just as special and loving as those we have with any other family member or close friend.  Loving animals is different from loving people, because they love us in a way that people cannot: profoundly, boundlessly and unconditionally. 

Back to Top

Reality: Pain over the loss of a beloved companion animal is as natural as the pain we'd feel over the loss of any significant relationship.  Since cherished pets weave their way into every aspect of our daily lives, in some cases it may be even more difficult to cope with losing them.  Once they're gone, we're repeatedly encountering evidence of their absence and constantly reminded of our grief.

Back to Top

Reality: We shouldn't let anyone influence us to believe that our relationships with animals are somehow wrong or less important than those we have with humans. Loving animals well and responsibly teaches us to better love all living beings, including humans. Grief is the normal response to losing someone we love, and grief is indifferent to the species of the one we've lost.   Love is love, loss is loss, and pain is pain.

Back to Top

Reality: Having deeply meaningful, spiritual and healthy relationships with animals is not abnormal, and in some cases may be more emotionally healthy, spiritually healing and personally rewarding than those we have with humans.  Pets offer us a kind of loyalty, devotion and unconditional love that cannot be found in the more complicated relationships we have with relatives, friends and neighbors.

Back to Top

Reality: Death of a pet is often a child's first real encounter with a major loss.  Suddenly friendship, companionship, loyalty, support and unconditional love are replaced with overwhelming and unfamiliar feelings of loss, confusion, emptiness, fear and grief.  Far from being a so-called dress rehearsal, for most children pet loss is a profoundly painful experience.

Back to Top

Reality: Deciding when and whether to euthanize a beloved pet is probably one of the most difficult choices we'll ever have to make.  On the one hand, we know that choosing to end our animal's life will intensify our own emotional pain, yet postponing the decision may prolong our animal's pain and suffering needlessly.  At such times it is very important to explore all aspects of the euthanasia decision with our veterinarian and with others whom we trust, to listen to what our animals may be trying to tell us, and to trust our own intuition.

Back to Top

Reality: Whether for animals or for humans, death ceremonies and rituals help meet our needs to support one another in grief, acknowledge the important role our loved ones played in our lives, honor the memory of our departed companions and bring meaning to our loss.


Back to Top





Marty Tousley
Copyright 2007
Revised: April 23, 2007 .