Pet Bereavement: What are the four classes of pet owners, and how does that Affect our grieving?
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 how age-related development stages affects a child’s perceptions and reaction to the death of their pet. We addressed how we can best support a bereft child based on his/her age range.
With this topic, we get to look at the differences between the four classes of pet owners: 1) weakly bonded 2) moderately bonded 3) intensely bonded and 4) profoundly bonded. As well as what is different when an older pet owner is grief stricken, especially a single older pet owner?
The differences between the four classes of pet owners is the depth of level of attachment. The pet owners who are weakly bonded tolerate having an animal around. That animal is a mere responsibility and is only an “it” for them. The weakly bonded pet owners do not love the animal, they tolerate them. The animal is not considered a family member, it provides an impersonal function. The weakly bonded pet owners feed and keep the hygiene of the animal. They will also keep animals for animal fights and monetary bets. Some pet owners are quite heartless and relish in the suffering of the animals.
The pet owners who are moderately bonded, will sometimes express moderate affection for their animal. These pet owners still consider the pet an “it”. The animal is there for the owner’s entertainment and satisfaction. The possible grief and heartbreak felt upon the animal’s passing subsides quite quickly.
The pet owners who are profoundly bonded have a pure bond. The pet is loved as a family member, and becomes like a child in the family. There is a depth of unconditional love between this owner and the animal that feels safer than with most humans. It is a soul connection and one of the purest forms of unconditional love.
While not necessarily pathological, excessively bonded pet owners experience soulful level of unconditional love with their pets. They experience an even deeper purity of love than the profoundly bonded pet owners feel. For these pet owners, the animal is an extension of their purest self, which can often be felt in the presence of their pet, yet often impossible to describe. Words would be limiting to the experience. For those of us who are excessively bonded pet owners, our trusted pet is more than a witness; he or she is the deepest confidant of our souls. We can be fully ourselves, our truest selves around our animal friend: we do not need to be anything else. Our pet becomes the self-expression of our inner grace. They are the embodiment of the deepest innocence we feel. When our soul mate dies, it becomes a deeply distressing experience, with suicidal thoughts to be expected. Such emotional distress may or may not warrant assistance from a professional therapist. Both the profoundly bonded and the excessively bonded will benefit from bereavement counseling.
Overall the differences between the four classes of pet owners, are in the different roles the pets fulfill in their lives.
One example of the weakly bonded owner is when the animal is left out in the cold or in the heat to serve as an intruder alert; or using the animals in competitions where dogs fight each other.
There is also a level of intensity that can characterize the depth of the human-pet bond, with deeply spiritual aspects engendering a very special responsibility and commitment.
The intensity that can characterize the human-pet bond can be one of the hardest thing to put in to words. Words are actually limiting to the experience as we entrust them with the deepest side of us. Those of us who experience it for the first time did not know that it could be so deep, soul-filling and even overwhelming. The human-pet bond can feel like the purest form of unconditional love, and one of the most spiritual love experiences of our lives. We feel a sense of loving safety, connection and intimacy with our animal that is like no other bond. They become our soul mates, so much so that we can become emotionally dependent on them. The depth of the soul connection we feel is matched by the intensity of the emotional distress we experience when our pet dies. When that happens, it feels like our heart constricts in our chest, and it physically hurts to breathe. That is how emotionally intense, complex and personal the human-pet bond can be. When that bond physically breaks, the intensity of the pain feels unbearable. It feels insurmountable. In time we realize that spiritual connection is an unbreakable bond that will continue to enrich us for the rest of our lives. As that bond lives in us, and as their spirit lives through us, we get to discover even more about love. That is yet another wonderful gift we receive, even well after they are gone.
Supporting us in learning to handle change is one of the many gifts that characterize the intense human-pet bond. One of the things that changes with time is the special responsibility and commitment that the bond engenders. While they are alive we feel a deep sense of responsibility for them as they depend on us for their every physical need. We commit ourselves to them wholeheartedly, fully ensuring their well-being. As their feedback to us is complete love, innocence and devotion, over time our commitment deepens even more. We even become part of one another. This sense of commitment and responsibility we feel towards them often changes once they pass away. It changes in that it often deepens. Just as they helped us grow and change while they are alive, they leave us yet another gift after they die. Their gift is often a mission with a sense of responsibility. It is an even deeper responsibility that it behooves us to recognize and honor, because it not only honors their loving memory, but it also creates an amazing legacy.
With that in mind, it is important to know that older pet owners, especially single older pet owners, usually rely on – and love – their companion animals on an even deeper level. A level that requires a different type of grief counseling.
Single older pet owners rely on - and love - their companion animals differently as their pets provide a deeper sense of connection in an otherwise lonely existence. Life closes in on the single older pet owners who tend to have less and less of a social life. Within their solitary life, they become deeply emotionally bonded with their companion animal, sharing endless memories and solitude. Their animals also provide a sense of extra emotional security, safety and even extra sensory perception. They might bark if someone is at the door, when the older pet owner may have not heard anyone approaching. The extra safety is also due to living in a cocoon around the pet exposure to the world.
When their pet dies, it feels even harder for the single older pet owner as that reminds them of their own mortality. This is one of the ways counseling them can be different than with other pet owners. The loss of their pet is also the loss of the deeply emotional attachment that made them feel safe in the world. While the older pet owner’s life is deteriorating, the animal’s love is often times their sole constance. Losing that constance can feel like completely loosing the their footing. That can be a most unsettling experience and, unlike other pet owners, they may not feel they have the strength to recover. It is a deeply profound grief. They can become so emotionally dependent on their love for their pet, and their lonely hearts rely on that very special bond so much, that they can feel completely unsafe in the world when their beloved animal dies.
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