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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Column: Losing a pet is like losing a child

By Jason Darrensburg

Coping with the loss of a beloved pet can be an incredibly painful experience, which unfortunately most of us will have to endure at some point in our lives. No matter how many times I’ve been through the misery of watching one of my feline children die, it never gets any easier.
My wife and I recently had to put down our dear 15-year-old cat Itchy, who died from complications due to renal failure. Her sister Scratchy died several years ago after mistakenly drinking anti-freeze.
We have no human children, so for us it was like losing a teenaged daughter. Again.
Val and I qualify as “crazy cat people,” and I’m not ashamed to say that we still share our home with five other cats, each of them unique and beautiful in their own way.
They were all rescue kittens too. I love them equally and for different reasons, and I can understand how human parents might feel the same way about their kids. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for parents of human children to have to go through the loss of a child.
But I will admit right here and now that I have much more admiration and respect for animals than I do for most so-called human beings. Just look at what “civilization” has achieved so far. People have done an excellent job of killing virtually everything on the planet, including the earth itself.

I am an ardent pacifist, and I’m fundamentally opposed to the death penalty except in two very specific cases. Child abuse and people who harm animals. Those are my only exceptions. Hell, I’d volunteer to execute them myself. Compared to most humans, animals are so dignified, honorable and brave, especially in the face of death. We have so much to learn from them. Animals are completely untainted by the violent, wretched ignorance of humanity.
Given the intense bond that most of us share with our pets, it’s only natural to be devastated by feelings of profound grief and sadness when our beloved companions die. Yet some people have a hard time understanding the deep connection animal lovers have with our pets.
My cats are my children as well as my best friends. I feel a lot closer to them than I do to most of my human family. After all, how many relatives or close friends can you honestly say have been there for you virtually every day of your life for fifteen years?
The decision to euthanize can be one of the most difficult choices you’ll ever have to make as an adult. For any caring pet owner though, the time will inevitably come when you may need to help your companion make the transition from this world to the next as peacefully and as painlessly as possible.
The degree of mourning after the loss of a pet depends on a person’s age and general personality, how long they’ve been together and the circumstances of their pet’s death. It is agonizing to play the role of ‘angel of death’ when a decision must be made. We can only try to handle it with as much dignity as our friends do under the circumstances.
I will never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving over the loss of one of my feline family. It’s sad but also very instructive to realize that a human heart can indeed be broken many times and yet somehow manage to survive. It is comforting to know I’m not the only animal lover who feels this way either. You never truly get over the loss, but eventually you come to terms with it. My advice is to accept your own grief. Just don’t let it overwhelm you.
Generally, the more significant the bond with your pet, the more intense the grief you will experience, although everyone mourns differently. For those of us who actually possess a human soul, a pet isn’t “just a dog” or “just a cat.” Pets are highly respected members of our household, and when they die we feel a significant, traumatic loss. Sometimes it takes a while to recover.
It can be especially difficult to cope with losing a pet when others try to devalue or belittle your feelings. One obstacle to healing can occur when your loss isn’t validated by others. Friends or family may ask, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a pet!”
Some believe that it shouldn’t hurt as much as the loss of a human child, or that it’s somehow inappropriate to grieve so much for an animal. Screw those people. They don’t understand because they don’t have a pet of their own, or because they are simply unable to appreciate the companionship and unconditional love that animals provide.

Jason Darrensburg is a columnist for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at opinion@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.