You Said Pet Loss and Bereavement, What?
The start of a new column focused on attachment, pet loss, psychology, and more!
Posted January 7, 2016
Animal Lover’s Identity
Chances are if you’ve come to this section of psychologytoday.com you experience a bond that pairs you with your companion pet or a general “love of animals.” If you didn’t feel some sense of compassion why even venture over here, right?
We can pride ourselves on our identities as “animal lovers.” We judge the neighbor if they don’t like our dog, we break up with our partner if they disagree with our cat being on the counter. We find a sense of peace within their presence and, heck, even buy these kinds of shirts.
Our daily lives revolve around the caretaking aspects of our companions. This could entail taking Fido for a walk first thing in the morning, opening up that fresh can for the kitty, or taking a fresh flake of hay to our horse. Our identity is found largely within our love and compassion for our companions
Pet Loss & Grief Paradox
Our culture naturally shuns away from the dignity that encompasses grief and loss. How many times throughout the day are we personally introduced to the concept of death? Of course this varies as each one of us comes with a different culture, a different upbringing of combined experiences, and along with such, vastly different perceptions of the world.
We see horrible stories of death in the news or we see death in crime shows, which can desensitize the reality of death within our daily lives. We generally start thinking of death when a loved one grows old, a family member becomes sick, or when we are facing end-of-life choices with our companion animals.
Legally, we are allowed only three days for bereavement leave from our workplace. That’s only for a direct relative or dependent. When you think about it, is there even consideration for the loss of a companion animal?
Cultural Stigma associated with Pet Loss
Have you ever head the words, “it was just a dog, you can get another one,” even from well-intending friends? In grieving the loss of a companion animal we are faced with a double whammy. We have the paradoxical nature that our companion animals can be considered members of our household, members of our family as rising trends indicate, but you can still purchase a puppy at the mall. This gives a sense of “ownership” over our companions, that they are materials you can go to the mall and replace.
Grieving the loss of a companion animal is a normal, natural response to death
As a pet loss and bereavement counselor, I’ve seen such heartbreak that comes along with the loss of a companion animal throughout my time at the Argus Institute associated with the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I have seen hundreds of people and many more animals that have completely changed lives with their presence, mended homes, and given new meaning to a person’s life.
As a social worker, I look at the world within the concept of systems, the importance of culture and diversity, the impact of perspective, and the importance of people and sentience of all types of animals, whether pet, domesticated, or wild.
Moving forward in a growing and important field
I’ve been given the opportunity to join the incredible team of experts at psychologytoday.com in sharing what I know, gathering important knowledge and material, and helping you alongside your journey with your companion.
Topics will include the psychology of attachment within the human-animal bond, the personalities behind our pets and companions themselves, the importance of pet loss and bereavement, the impact of animal assisted interventions, and more!
Adam Clark, LSW, AAW is an Animal Assisted Social Worker and pet loss counselor. Adam focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating professionals. More information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.lovelosstransition.com.
 Field, N. P., Orsini, L., Gavish, R., & Packman, W. (2009). Role of attachment in response to pet loss. Death Studies, 33, 334-355.