The loss of a beloved pet can be the deepest heartbreak of our lives. With each article, we will address and answer a key topic with Certified Pet Grief Counselor, Pina De Rosa (APLB / AAVSB).
If you wish to send in questions for Pina, please submit them to Pina De Rosa through www.PetBereavementCounseling.com
In our last topic on Pet Grief Counseling, we looked at “anticipatory grief”.
With this topic, as the holidays are around the corner, we will address two questions that I was asked recently.
About dressing up pets in Halloween costumes: “What are your reflections and opinions about pet owners dressing up their animals? Is there any possible problem or potential danger in this behavior?”
My reflections and opinions about pet owners dressing up their animals is that if it is a once off special occasion like a fun Halloween costume, or a few cute moments with a Santa hat for a holiday photo, it can be quite sweet. If it is enjoyable for all (including for the pet), then there would not be much reason for concern. There are times when pet owners take care of their animals by dressing them up for warm weather or for rain protection, or even putting on a vest in the case of a service animal. In my opinion those are quite normal circumstances.
That said, it is a distorted situation when the pet is dressed up in various costumes for multiple occasions, or even receives baby toys and gets carried around in a baby stroller (even though the pet is not disabled). It becomes quite strange when a pet owner relates to the animal the way we would relate to a human baby, and transfers any potential unmet nurturing needs to that pet. If this conduct is ongoing, it can become a significant issue and such pathology would then warrant appropriate professional help.
That is an unhealthy fantasy. Sometimes the owner is aware of it, often times they are not. In such instances, there is quite definitely a possible problem or even potential danger. This type of behavior is a conscious (or sometimes unconscious) redirection of the feelings that a parent would have for a child. This would then quite often lead the owner to experience and express a heightened responsibility for the animal. In extreme cases, such as when the animal is pushed around in a stroller, then it is not only strange, but it can actually deprive the pet of living its true animal nature which is considered a form of abuse. Once that pet passes, the grief counseling for the pet owner will likely need to be referred for a longer and deeper therapy or psychotherapy.
About religion: “How would you counsel a person who will not euthanize a terminally ill and suffering pet, because of Judeo-Christian religious reasons? Without criticizing their beliefs, how would you deal with a friend who thinks only God has any right to take a pet’s life? Some of our friends want our help, but they will accept only what they see as legitimate scriptural justification.”
How I would counsel a person who will not euthanize a terminally ill and suffering pet, because of Judeo-Christian religious reasons is the following. Aware that a counselor’s “logical” approach will not be effective with someone who is deeply religious, I would bring up compelling religious references such as the biblical thought of “Man is God’s appointed steward of all living things.” Because some clients rely on their severe religious beliefs, they will decline having their pets euthanized, erroneously believing their faith forbids it. With that awareness, I would ensure to solely counsel them through their religious beliefs. I would never attempt to convince them of the inaccuracy of their of their beliefs as it would only alienate them.
Without criticizing their beliefs, how I would deal with a friend / client who says only God has any right to take a pet’s life is the following. Firstly, I would actually ask them what kind of assistance they believe I may be able to offer. Then, with the awareness that their religious beliefs can often create rigidity in their thinking, I would ensure to not antagonize them. I would make certain to work with them solely from their religious perspective. Working with nothing else but that approach would be the best way to reach this kind of client and be of service to him/her. I would not expect that normal counseling techniques, or logic, would work in this very challenging type of case. I would also keep in mind that if they come to me for help, it is because even in the midst of their emotional turmoil, they desire being assisted.
The following are several biblical or religious references or examples to justify my perspective with this troubled person who wants my help but will accept only what he/she sees as legitimate scriptural justification. Remembering that this person wants my help, but will accept only what he/she sees as legitimate scriptural justification, I would remind them of Genesis 22. It describes how Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, his own son, to prove his faith. God sent an angel to instruct him to sacrifice a ram instead of Isaac. Hence Genesis 22 clearly demonstrating that God does not forbid the killing of animals. With this reminder, the client may be able to reframe euthanasia as an honorable act of mercy and compassion, just as God’s love advises, especially for terminally ill animals in pain.
Another biblical reference that will help is the Old Testament commandment “Thou shall not kill” which, in most recent Bible editions, has been revised as “Thou shall not murder”. The first translation can be somewhat misleading. The latter is a more appropriate biblical Hebrew translation.
Also a helpful Old Testament reference is when God reminds us of the Covenant to have a loving relationship with all His creatures. The Judeo-Christian theology is grounded in a God of love, a God who created and cares for all things in a loving way. After the flood, in Genesis 9:8:17, God shares His intention regarding that Covenant. “And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, Behold, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth. This is a sign of the Covenant, which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you. For all future generations I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between Me and the earth.” And more about the Covenant that God made with all living creatures, including animals, Jesus says in the New Testament: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) Through His Covenant, by making the humans the stewards of the animals, God gave us the sacred responsibility for them. These are some of the biblical references that will help counsel a troubled friend / client who wants help in seeing a legitimate scriptural justification they can accept.
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