A survey in the US indicates at least half of all homes in America have either a dog (78.2 million), or cat (more than 86.4 million). More significantly, 91% of owners say they consider their pet to be a member of the family.
With such close bonds to our furry friends, especially for expats who find themselves with less human contact in their adopted country, it’s no wonder that when a pet dies it can be traumatising. For those who are neither a cat nor a dog person it’s difficult to grasp, but such a loss can equal that of a close relative or even a spouse.
The Bereavement Support Network of the Var (BSN) has a team of trained volunteers that, across the year, offer support to the bereaved and terminally ill. Recently they have addressed the subject of pet bereavement support.
BSN President, Mim Kay, explains. “When a beloved pet was your only living companion, it adds a further dimension to the loss. Loneliness and, perhaps, a sense of no longer being needed can also be felt. Suddenly there is no necessity to get up early or to go for a walk. The house is full of reminders.
“Members of BSN can lend a sympathetic ear. Several of us share, and have shared, our lives with pets and have experienced the pain and intense sorrow that follows their death. For many, the feelings of grief, emptiness and desolation are every bit as intense as those felt following the loss of a partner or parent. These emotions can be further compounded by guilt if a choice had to be made to put the animal to sleep.
“Some feel it necessary to bury their feelings when friends and relatives, sympathetic at first, become impatient and say things like ‘it was just an animal’. Yet grief is perfectly natural. Many people have shared their lives with another living being – a cat, a dog, a rabbit – and have enjoyed a relationship with them, which was two way. When that relationship ends it can bring deep sadness with it.
“Relief can be gained from talking with someone who is prepared to listen in a non-judgmental way and offer assurance that the feelings involved are normal. Remembering your pet with someone who understands your feelings can help start the mental healing process, although there is no formula and no set time scale to overcoming heartache.
“As a group, the BSN volunteers offer their support to any English-speaking adult who is suffering the pain of a loss, regardless of whether that loss involves a partner, relative, friend or a pet.”
Contact BSN on 04 94 84 64 89 or see their website www.bsnvar.org