Don’t let apathy stop you from grieving the loss of a pet

By Shannon Garrido, Editor-in-chief

When we lose a family member, we are told to grieve. We cut our days short, we make funeral arrangements, we take time off, or drown ourselves in work. We do whatever it takes to get by. 

For so many, including myself, pets are an extension of our own family. They are family. They are there when you need a companion and a confidant for as long as we can remember having them around.  

Yet, when our pets die, our days don’t stop. 

I have had pets die throughout my life, the most recent being my little white Maltese, Nico, just this weekend. No matter how many pets you lose, it never gets any easier. 

When my parents had to work long hours, Nico was there to keep me company, making sure to stay put on my bedside. He was there for my sister when I was too busy to keep her company after school. He was there to worry us all when his little body would disappear behind our furniture, making a mess as he went by. 

Now that Nico has passed, I am filled with grief. It’s like there is suddenly a hole in my heart that cannot be filled by anything other than his little brown eyes staring at me.

However, I do not feel comfortable asking my professors for extensions on assignments or time off when I really need it. Going up to my professor and saying, “My dog died, can I have an extension?” seems ridiculous. 

It doesn’t feel like this loss is enough for my peers to take seriously. It just seemed like a sad thing that happened to me, yet not sad enough that I couldn’t do my work. 

I found myself thinking that because my loss was not an actual person, that it wasn’t a valid excuse. But, it should be emphasized that losing a pet is a valid excuse. In so many cases, losing a pet can be harder than losing a relative. Like psychologist, speaker, and author Guy Winch states in his article for the Scientific American, so many people feel embarrassed to admit that they are struggling due to the apathy of others. Instead of admitting we feel bad, we laugh it off or simply don’t talk about it. 

This indifference to the loss of a person’s pet can actually make the person grieving feel worse, according to the book “Clinician’s Guide to Treating Companion Animal Issues.” In my case, I felt that even though the last thing I wanted to do was go out and have fun, or work on my school work, it was still expected of me. Friends, who I knew meant well, kept telling me that I would “feel better” if I went out and distracted myself. All I wanted to do was lay in bed. 

If someone close to you has lost a beloved pet, let them grieve the same way you would if they had lost a family member, because chances are, they did. Don’t expect people to get over loss easily because the deceased is small and fluffy. Yes, pets can be bought, but the love they provide cannot. 

They cannot simply be replaced and their memory does not become an afterthought in the span of a week. 

The loss of these lifelong companions can not only overwhelm us with pain and grief, but also with feelings of guilt. Just like losing family or friends, the death of a pet can make our brain spiral to all of the moments you took for granted. All the times I was having a bad day and got extra annoyed when I had to clean up after Nico reminded me of how little time we had left and I had no idea. 

When our pets die, we are in charge of giving them a proper goodbye. While we are filled with heartache over the loss of our four-legged friend, we have to decide how their life should be honored. For those struggling with this, think about where the memory of your pet can be honored, not only for you, but for them. In Nico’s case, we buried him at his favorite spot, Rancho Don Rey, Sabana de la Mar. 

The fields of this Ranch located in the province of Hato Mayor in the Dominican Republic were his happy place. He would rub himself on the chinola fields and bask in the hot sun. There, he can soak in the sun rays and live among the grassy fields forever, just like he always wanted to. 

Death, loss, and grief are complicated things. We all feel it differently, and we all should. No loss is too small or too big. As people, we should work to make others feel safe enough to feel it freely.