All of these emotion-ridden actions and attitudes are part of the normal grief process, say pet-bereavement counselors. As more of us come to regard our dog, cat, or other pet as a valued member of the family, its death takes a greater personal toll on us.
Grief and Healing
"No matter how it happens, we are never ready emotionally for a beloved pet's death," says Wallace Sife, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement in New York City. "Many of us bond with our pets as if they were our children, but we can't protect them from illness or death. When Edel Meister, my miniature dachshund, died 14 years ago, I became an emotional basket case despite my professional training and experience. But then I perceived it as a potential turning point and soon became determined to dedicate my life to helping others go through the grieving and healing process."
The healthiest way to honor your pet's memory is to recognize that you need to grieve before you can heal, says Lorri Greene, PhD, a licensed psychologist who facilitates pet-loss support groups for the San Diego County Pet Bereavement Program in conjunction with the San Diego Humane Society. Dr. Greene says that most pet owners go through a grieving process that includes emotions ranging from denial to anger to depression and back again before an ultimate acceptance of their loss. "It may take you days, weeks, or even months to go through this process, and not everyone goes through it in a linear fashion," says Dr. Greene. "It is common to bounce back and forth from feeling anger to, say, feeling depressed."
And don't overlook the clout that guilt may deliver. "If you must euthanize your pet because you can't afford expensive treatments, or your dog slipped out your door and got hit and killed by a car, you may feel like a failure," says Dr. Greene.