Pet Loss and Human Emotion, A Circle of Compassion

by Suzanne Gassner

It’s Rosie,” the elderly gentleman said softly. “I think it’s time.”
Rosie’s back legs were limp. She was overweight, probably the result of good intentions taken to excess. Her eyes were a milky blue-gray, clouded by cataracts. And as we sat together he told me a kind of love story, of the joy a once-frisky dog had brought into his life.

“I’ve been saying goodbye all morning,” he whispered, trying hard to hold back his emotions. After a while, he softly said, “OK, it’s time.”
“Do you want to be with Rosie?” I asked.

“Yes, of course. I could never let her be alone at this time. I want to hold her,” he answered. Thank you, I quietly thought. This was the one last favor he could bestow upon his beloved pet. He clutched Rosie close to him and buried his face in her neck, whispering softly in her fur. Her tail began bobbing and she tilted her face toward him.
The old man stroked her fur. He pulled a large red bandana from the back pocket of his trousers, blew his nose and rubbed his puffy eyes. “That was her last car ride. She loved car rides,” he said sadly as he patted my shoulder. His own shoulders slumped a little more as he shuffled out the door.

Pet loss and human emotion — we see it every day at the Humane Society of Missouri. Sunrises: the excitement as a new pet is adopted and happily prances off into a new life. Sunsets: the good-byes, the tears, the final embraces. The death of a pet can cause enormous feelings of sorrow, guilt and loneliness for children and adults alike, whether the end comes through old age, illness, sudden accident or thoughtful euthanasia.
Pets are our companions, friends, confidantes, playmates — ever faithful, welcoming, patient and unconditionally affectionate. When a pet dies, we expect that others will understand the depth of our loss, even if they do not share our distress. Yet pet owners are often inhibited in their very real grief, even when the pet was a cherished member of the family. Our grief may be compounded by a lack of apparent understanding from others, making the healing process more difficult.

Seeking validation of your pain from people who will understand your loss is one way to begin healing. The Humane Society of Missouri offers a free pet loss support group. The group meets on the first Saturday of each month at 1:00 pm at the Humane Society of Missouri, 1201 Macklind Avenue. To participate, please call 314-650-9725.

As you grieve, remember that your life was enhanced by the joy and companionship you shared with your pet during your time together. Certainly your pet’s life was equally blessed by sharing it with you.

Suzanne Gassner is Director of Education for the Humane Society of Missouri. Visit their website to learn more about the programs available for your students or to download over 60 full lesson plans for your class.