Grieving Voices

Grieving the Loss of a Pet

October 31, 2023 Victoria V Season 4 Episode 166
Grieving Voices
Grieving the Loss of a Pet
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Show Notes Transcript

The global pet market is worth $261B. Additionally, U.S. pet owners will spend nearly $110B on their pets this year, with $490M on Halloween costumes alone. These stats (and more) are shared on this week's episode and are provided by PetKeen.com.

More importantly, there are an estimated 14 million pet deaths each year in the U.S., which, when combined with the other 40+ losses, creates a lot of grievers annually.

It's commonplace to replace the death of a pet with a new one. And as a society, we don't view the death of a beloved pet in the same way we view the death of the humans in our lives. However, all the same, the death of a pet can be a tremendous loss for someone.

Considering how much we love our pets and how many of us are pet owners, you would think we would be more compassionate toward those who must surrender or say goodbye to a companion who held a pivotal role in their daily lives. And yet, there is still so much education to be done in grief - even when grieving a four-legged fur baby, bird, snake, or whatever creature has captured your heart.

RESOURCES:

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NEED HELP?

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Counselor

If you are struggling with grief due to any of the 40+ losses, free resources are available HERE.

CONNECT WITH VICTORIA: 

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This episode is sponsored by Do Grief Differently™️, my twelve-week, one-on-one, in-person/online program for grievers who have suffered any type of loss to feel better. Click here to learn new tools, grief education, and the only evidence-based method for moving beyond the pain of grief.

Would you like to join the mission of Grieving Voices in normalizing grief and supporting hurting hearts everywhere? Become a supporter of the show HERE.


Victoria Volk: Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, whatever time it is you're listening to this week's episode. Thank you for being here. If you are liking the podcast and enjoying it, I hope you share it with someone you know or love who may benefit or leave a five-star review on Apple iTunes or wherever you listen and share a few thoughts if you feel inclined to as well. I read all of them and it's always a joy for me to read how my this podcast is impacting the listeners. And that is you. So thank you for tuning in. 

Victoria Volk: And today, I want to piggyback on the last episode with Maha Bodhi, we were talking about her pet loss. And so today, I want to dive into the topic of pet loss a little bit more and in more general terms. And as far as how the grief recovery institute, addresses pet loss, which is very similar to how we address the loss of someone we love or don't love. Right? Because relationships with people are complicated and sometimes they are less than loving. But nonetheless, even if that relationship is less than loving, there likely is some complex emotions behind that relationship. Right? Because people can disappoint you, they can hurt you, and yet, well, if they're your parent well, you should love them anyway. Right? You should be grateful that you have a parent. All these things that flood a griever's mind when it is a less than loving relationship and sometimes too when it is a loving relationship. Right? Because relationships are tricky and challenging and complex. It's not cut and dry. It's not black and white. There's many nuances to relationships because we are complex human beings. So you put complex human beings together, and where do you get? A hodgepodge of complexity. 

Victoria Volk: So anyway, today we're gonna talk about pet loss. And I'm actually going to start this episode by talking about some staggering statistics and trends that I was reading about in preparation for this episode, that I wanna share with you, that just highlight how much we as a society in this, I believe these statistics just apply to well, globally and in just the US. So globally, the pet market is worth two hundred and sixty-one billion dollars. B billion. B billion with a b. And US pet owners will spend nearly a hundred and ten billion dollars, a hundred and ten billion with a b, on their pets this year. Four hunt nook it. This is crazy. Four hundred and ninety million dollars alone will be spent on Halloween costumes. And when this podcast is airing, it is Halloween, so Happy Halloween to you in your little pooch. Who may be dressed up, this Halloween. And another statistic is in the last five years, raw food has seen a hundred and forty percent hundred and forty-seven percent increase in purchasing patterns. In the US, eighty-three percent of dogs and seventeen percent of cats are insured, which that one surprised me. I've personally looked into it, but I haven't gotten insurance from my dog. He's eight or is he nine? Anyway, he's a senior citizen at this point. And his name is Gizmo and he's a purebred habanese. And he's actually relatively he's pretty healthy. Aside from a few teeth that have had to been had to be pulled. I think he had two teeth pulled. He hasn't had any issues, so I got very lucky with a healthy dog. 

Victoria Volk: And also more than half of pet owners will or are willing to pay more for eco friendly pet care products. Another interesting statistic is that millennials lead the pack in terms of pet ownership by generation with thirty-two percent of people born between nineteen eighty-one and nineteen ninety-six being pet parents. Nearly one in three millennials has an animal at home and coincidentally, nearly one in three veterinarians in today's working market are of the millennial generation. Pet ownership is next highest in baby boomers with twenty-seven percent followed by Gen Xers at twenty-four percent. And pet owner pet sitting is also seeing a rise. Two it's a two-point six billion dollar industry as of twenty nineteen and is continually growing. Pet ownership actually, although it increased during the pandemic, the number of animals adopted from shelters has dropped by twenty percent and that was as of twenty twenty. 

Victoria Volk: Yeah. It's just crazy to me and even like just the pet food and market is valued at twenty-two point eight billion dollars. We all love our pets. Obviously, like, people love their pets. And so why is it in a society of people who love their pets? Is pet loss one of the most minimized losses? Why do people feel like they can't express their grief when it comes to pet loss? I know not everybody feels that way, but for the most part generally speaking, you know, when someone loses a pet, they don't feel like they can talk about it because it's not a human. Right? And we have this hierarchy this unspoken hierarchy I think that human life is more valuable than than pet life or animal life. But to someone who has developed an emotional bond with a pet, of any kind, it doesn't have to be a dog. It doesn't have to be cat. Like, the common pets. I mean, a pet can be a snake that someone has emotionally bonded to. I mean, when I'm talking about pet loss, I'm not specifying dog or cat or anything like that, but I'll just speak to dogs because that's what I have. Probably more so than any other type of pet. But and I know plenty of cat people too, and I am not a cat person. They're cute when they're little, but I don't know. Cat hair. That's why I have a dog that doesn't shed. I am not a fan of animal hair and cats are just they're kind of rogue. They do what they want. They go where they want. I'm not a fan of that. So, therefore, I am a dog person rather than a cat person.

Victoria Volk: Anyway, we are in a society that minimizes these losses. As a kid, I had to say goodbye to several pets because either the neighbor was unhappy with the dog barking or it had to be tied up outside because I couldn't have pets in the house. I would always try and bring in stray cats. I was always feeding the strays, trying to bring animals home, I had gone through so many pets. We actually did, this was before I have a memory of it, but apparently when I was really little, we did have a big dog, like a sheep dog, I guess, in the house. And supposedly, he was poisoned. I don't know that was before my time, but I don't know. Maybe that must have been really traumatic for my mom and my dad at the time and maybe they swore off no more animals in the house after that. I have no idea. Actually, I should ask my mom about that.

Victoria Volk: But anyway, I digress. Grief Recovery Institute actually has a pet loss program that has been made available by the Grief Recovery Institute and it is a program that I am certified to facilitate in a group or individually. And some might be listening to this and wondering why is there a separate group for pet loss, but like there isn't a separate group for like people who've lost a child or people who are going through a divorce or things like that. The reason is because of something I've already mentioned, not the whole reason but a large part of the reason is because when someone who's had a pet loss to go into a group setting, in particular, with people who have lost a child or people who have lost a loved one they may feel judged for being there, for having the feelings that they feel after losing their beloved pet. And again, it comes back to the societal idea of of this hierarchy of loss.

Victoria Volk: But what I was started to touch on before and I don't think I finished my thought is that when you let's say you're a single person, you don't have a lot of family around you, if any family. You don't have children. You're animal. Your pet is your significant other. Your pet is your child. Your pet is your everything. You do everything with this pet. If it's a dog, maybe you take your dog everywhere you go. Your dog is very much ingrained, or your pet, is very much ingrained in your daily habits, in your daily life. And when that is gone, it shakes up everything for you because no longer is this companion there to greet you when you come in the door or is there for you when you're feeling sad or we can develop these codependent relationships with our pets just as easily as we can with our humans with humans.

Victoria Volk: But the benefit of having a pet, right, is they don't talk back. They love unconditionally, and that can actually make it easier to create this codependent relationship, this emotional codependent relationship where when that pet is gone, oh, you are so quick to replace it. And I think that's what happens oftentimes in society and others have this belief that that you can just replace that dog. You can just you can get another gizmo. Like I when my dog dies, people probably will think, well, just get another gizmo. I can't get another gizmo. There is no gizmo like gizmo. I personally trained him. I did a lot of research and how to choose an animal and how to train a dog. Because I wanted a lifelong companion in our home, for our family, an animal that would fit with our family dynamic. And I think with that going into it with that intention, we didn't end up in the situation we had before, not once, but twice, where we had to rehome a rescue. Because the timing was not right, It just wasn't very good timing. We weren't a good fit for the dog, and the dog wasn't a good fit for us. And I knew it. And the animal knew it. And so then we started seeing these behavioral issues. And I could just see that this and it comes down, maybe the breed or you know, because it was a rescue. Who knows what that what trauma that animal had before coming into our home? And so it just wasn't a really good environment for the dog, and the dog wasn't a good fit for us. And so that happened twice where we had to rehome pets. And I didn't want to have that happen again. And so in finding Gizmo, I did a lot of research and investment of time, a lot of time to be intentional and to ensure that he would be in her home until his last breath. And it has worked out really well. And I would do it all over again, maybe or not. I'm not even sure. I can't replace him. There is no other dog like him. And we can't replace our parents. We can't replace our significant others. We can't replace our children. And you can't replace your pet. There will never be another pet like pet that you had and the bond that you shared. And when you try to do that too soon without intention and more of a fear-based decision and more of an emotional decision without working through a lot of these things I'm going to briefly discuss (which are quite similar to what we do in grief recovery with human relationships) you find that you start at square one. Like my last guest did, if you go back and listen to the last episode with Maha, she talks about this. I didn't even know that she had gone. I knew she was looking at a pet and I cautioned her to take as much time as she needed. But emotionally, that poll to replace that loss was stronger than her inner wisdom. I mean, I think if we sit long enough with our own hearts and minds, we come to the best conclusion for ourselves. But if we don't do that and we're just wrapped up in the emotion of the loss and wrapped up in ego. Right? And just wanting to feel better and ready to do about anything to feel better. That's when we make decisions that are not the best aligned for us. And in this circumstance, the other animal or in a circumstance with a human, the other human, if you're jumping from one relationship to the next without really becoming emotionally complete with the one before it, you're bringing all that emotional stuff into that current relationship. Whether it's a pet or whether it's a human. 

Victoria Volk: And so today, I'm just gonna share with you, this isn't any different than going through grief recovery when you're working through a loss of a a human. You still have those six myths. Don't feel bad. Replace the loss. Grieve alone. Be strong. Keep busy. Time heals all wounds. Like, these are the six myths that are still applicable to pet loss as they are to human loss.

Victoria Volk: In the United States alone, it is estimated that there are more than fourteen million pet deaths each year, and death of a pet is an obvious heartbreaking loss, but and it can occur in many ways. Including pets that run away or are surrendered due to financial reasons. These losses combined account for nearly forty million new grievers every single year. So given these the dimension of the problem, you would think there would be a tremendous number of resources available for those who have lost a beloved pet, and you would be wrong. Maybe after a pet loss, you phone yourself googling how to get over the loss of a pet, and you discover that there's probably very little effective guidance for grieving pet owners. There are first-person books in which grieving pet owners describe their pain, sometimes in very poetic language. And yes, there are other books that provides a measure of comfort by helping the griever not feel so alone. And yet, again, there are some support groups where people can talk about the pain they feel in a safe nonjudgmental environment, but those books and those groups tend to provide only short term not the kind of long-term completion of the grief caused by the death of your pet. 

Victoria Volk: As I've talked about, compounding the problem is fact that friends and even family often don't understand or accept the intensity of the grief we feel when our pets die. And that sad fact makes many pet grievers isolate from human contact for fear they will be judged. The main goal of grief recovery method in working with, within the context of human relationships is to become complete. It might reuse words complete or completion or working through what is emotionally incomplete. Right? And So we generally don't have arguments with our pets, but we're often left feeling unfinished with things we'd hope to do with them but never did. Or maybe that was a traumatic end to the relationship with a pet, maybe they ran away, or maybe you had to euthanize your pet as my previous guest Maha did. That is a really difficult decision to have to make and that's where a lot of grievers find themselves kind of stuck in that emotional loss that the deep sense of regret sometimes over the loss of their pet. Part of what makes a relationship with their pets different from our human ones is that there aren't usually as many things that would fall into the category of different as it relates to day-to-day interactions. When we say, within the context of human relationships, grief is that anything that you wish would have been different, better, or more. And so if it's when you start thinking about some of the events that surround the end of your pet's life or that end of that relationship that you might find yourself questioning decisions that you had to make. If you think about it, you'll realize that those decisions which were often about medical concerns were not directly about your long-term emotional relationship with your pet. But since you felt responsible for your pet's well-being. The end-of-life issues can become very emotional for you as you go over and over the circumstances that led up to the death, for example. After your pet dies, for example, you might have told the story of what happened at the end of your pet's life many times to friends and family, yet you may still be having a difficult time adapting to your life and the changes you perceive as the result of the absence of your companion, you may have begun to realize that repeating the story is not freeing you from the painful feelings you have concerning whether or not you did the right things. So you get caught in this this loop. For many years. And sometimes even decades as you replay the circumstances over and over in your heart and in your head. As a result, you just tend to isolate further and further from people, and even other animals who are or might be part of your life. And so there's so many different scenarios as to what happens at the end of a relationship with a pet that I'm not gonna go into and give a bunch of examples, but and it doesn't matter. Right?

Victoria Volk: Because the loss of a pet is the loss of a pet. It doesn't matter how that happened in the grand scheme of things because the process of what we take you through through the Pet loss Program is still the same. That doesn't change. With Pet loss, we're still gonna create a relationship graph, you're still going to create the different components of the recovery categories. You're going to write out your significant emotional statements and you still finish with the completion letter, none of that changes in the pet loss program as opposed to the grief recovery loss program for human relationships.

Victoria Volk: And even after the pet loss program, there's still work to do, right? Because oftentimes after the loss of a pet or even a human being, right, there's this cleanup work where looking at the outside reminders of the loss, some grieving pet owners hold on to everything that represents the pet that died. That is called enshrinement. We can actually do that with humans. Like, keep this is when you keep the bedroom the exact same way or, you know, create like this shrine really of the person that you lost with their things and their trinkets and whatnot. And so this is called what we call in grief recovery enshrinement. As Maha was going through the loss of her pet and grieving him before he even passed, as an end-of-life doula, with humans, I had recommended to her that she reach out to a local end-of-life doula who could support her in live in person through the loss of her pet because I knew how important her pet was to her and I'm however far away I am from California, thousands of miles away, I was unable to be present to support her in that way. And so she did that. She reached out to a local end-of-life doula And that was incredibly serving, helpful, and healing for her. 

Victoria Volk: And so I would recommend to you too if you're facing the loss of your pet and you just have no idea where to turn or what to do and lack the support either from loved ones or friends. I highly recommend see if there is a local end-of-life doula that is willing to hold your hand through that process and guide you through some maybe some painful things and emotions that come up, but also to help you in what Maha's end-of-life doula did was create a ritual around her dog blake's passing. She brought the dog home, they washed him, and bathed him, and just it was this ritualistic memorial service of sorts that she was able to honor his life in what he meant to her. And I think that wasn't from what she described, very healing. 

Victoria Volk: And so I would go back and listen to that episode and maybe feel some inspiration around that as being possible for you too. If you have found this information helpful, I highly recommend to dig more deep into the details, I would recommend getting a copy of the book, The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss. I will link to it in the show notes. I will also link to an organization or a company or business that actually creates memorials for pets and also a link to I think they create animal earns and things like that. A link to that in the show notes as well. Any other links I can think of or I will add in the show notes some resources for those of you who may be in this situation where you're having to prepare to say goodbye to your beloved pet or maybe you had a pet that passed away or ran away or you had to rehome for whatever reason. I hope this podcast episode was helpful for you in recognizing that you are not alone. 

Victoria Volk: Of course, there are millions of us animal lovers, pet lovers out there. And if there's so many of us, clearly, that we're spending billions of dollars on our pets and we love our pets fiercely, then why is it still one of the most minimized losses. Why are we still saying things to people? Like, oh, that's okay. You can get a new dog. Just go down to the pet store, get a new dog tomorrow. We need to stop that. We need to stop that language and just hold each other with compassion. That just because you feel like you can just go down to the pet store tomorrow and replace your dog doesn't mean the next person feels that way. So it's honoring each other where we're at and check out the book. I think you'd find it very helpful if you are wanting to work through a pet loss that you've had. I will put a link in the show notes as well to my program where we can work one-on-one online, and remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.