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The grief we feel when an animal companion passes away…

3 Oct

It can be surprisingly difficult. And surprisingly lonely. Your relationship with a nontraditional pet is by it’s very nature a little different than a more traditional animal like a dog or cat. It can be closer, and even more special, because we instinctively know our companion is unusual, maybe even a little bit a tame but still wild animal. Our companion has related to us on their level and not just because their domesticated genes have brought them to understanding us.

Hard for us rabbit, bird, guinea pig, rat, turtle, lizard, or sugar glider owners to understand, but there are many dog and cat loving people that don’t understand the bond that can exist between us and these unusual animals. Even harder to understand, there are people that really don’t ‘get’ having any animal as a true relational companion. Both categories of these people can dismiss and belittle the terrible grief we feel when one of our non-traditional companion animals pass away. “It’s just a parakeet.” “It’s just a stinky hamster.” “It’s just a stupid messy rabbit.” You may hear these and more- sometimes by truly well-meaning people (or by boorish mean-spirited people of course).

The bonds we have are truly special with our pets. Amazing, wondrous, and complex set of connections. An Amazon parrot could have a reasonably expected lifespan of 60 years. A relationship that spans those many years gets deeper through the years. Parrots that are ‘mature’ seem to develop a wisdom about them, learning about us and the environment we provide for them all the time; and their ‘teenage’ hormones have steadied more and lead to less behavior swings. The relationship with them develops, changes throughout the years and if nurtured, becomes deeper. The way we respond to such a loss of a relationship many decades long can be profound.

It doesn’t take decades though. The hamster we cherish may only have a 24-30 month lifespan- imagine your own life compressed to such a short span, and understand that for every month your hammie lives, is like a couple years of our lives. And they become so part of our lives that when they go, they feel it.

There should be no shame in feeling this grief even if few or none understand or try to minimize what you’re feeling. There are grief counselors for pet loss that can help you get through the process. Don’t try to downplay your relationship with the animal that has passed you dishonor his or her memory. Love is forever.