If you have a pet, you know what unconditional love and compassion mean. If you had a pet and lost it, you have suffered deep pain. The loss of a pet can often be the most traumatizing, overwhelming, and painful experience one can suffer.
Some people might not understand it, but if you have been in such a situation, you can relate, and you should not feel ashamed or guilty for grieving for your best animal friend.
Leslie Irvine, a sociologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says:
“It’s not surprising to me that we feel such grief over the loss of a pet, because in this country at least they are increasingly considered family members.”
As many as 68% of households in America have a pet.
Researcher John Archer, in his research, Why do people love their pets?, published in Science Direct, found that the loss of a pet can be as painful as the loss of a loved human being:
“In some circumstances, pet owners derive more satisfaction from their pet relationship than those with humans, because they supply a type of unconditional relationship that is usually absent from those with other human beings.”
Our pets are often our most important creatures in life, and we shape our daily activities according to their needs. For many people who live alone, the pet is their first companion.
“A lot of people who have pets wake up at a certain time, not because of any alarm clock or any need of their own but because their dog needs a walk.
Just as other humans participate in becoming family by doing these practices — getting up together, eating together, navigating the bathroom times, and all that — so do animals become part of the rituals that make family.”
The feeling you get when in the company of your loved companion has been scientifically backed up.
Cori Bussolari, a psychologist at the University of San Francisco, explains that we develop our bonds with animals in the same way as we form our attachments to people. She points out the findings of a 2015 study published in Science Mag, Oxytocin-gaze positive loop, and the coevolution of human-dog bonds, which showed that when people and their dogs gaze at each other, their oxytocin level increases.
Oxytocin, or the love hormone, regulates social interactions, and humans release it when they stare into each other’s eyes.
Another study, The Impact of Pet Loss on the Perceived Social Support and Psychological Distress of Hurricane Survivors, confirmed that, in the case of post-disaster situations, “pets might protect survivors from adverse outcomes whereas pet loss might increase risk. Pets can provide owners with nonjudgmental support, buffering against physical and mental health problems, and decreasing reactivity to stressors. Pet loss, in turn, is associated with psychological distress.”
Psychologist Julie Axelrod explains why people grieve so much after their pets. Axelrod says that they are in fact losing their source of unconditional love, their primary companion, who provides security and comfort, and even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child.
Our pets are often the most important and beloved creatures in life. The bond we have with them is incredibly strong, and we consider them members of the family, which bring love, joy, and fun into our lives.
Therefore, if you have ever lost one, you know that that feeling is so painful, and in no way different from when losing a close relative or a best friend.