Grief is the price we pay for love

This week I had to make two home visits to facilitate the passing of a much beloved older pet. Both dogs had reached the end of their lives and their respective healths were rapidly declining. There was no doubt that being able to save them the last few days of suffering and unhappiness was a kindness and relief but the sadness and grief were written large on the faces of their owners. 

No pet owner ever makes the decision to let a pet go lightly, even when it is clearly the kindest option. The emotional mix of loss, guilt and helplessness leave pet owners feeling the intense sadness of the departure of a pet that for many of us is not just a furry companion but a critical member of the family.

Our pets give us so much more than just a loyal presence, they give us affection, appreciation, a non-judgemental, ever-present companion and most importantly love. For those non-pet owners out there it is hard to appreciate the depth of the human-pet bond and perhaps why it’s sometimes difficult to adequately sympathise with the extent of the grief that is felt when a pet passes away.  

We are a nation of animal lovers but also a nation known for emotional restraint. For me as a veterinarian and a pet owner the best advice I can give for grieving owners is to say ‘Don’t apologise for crying, don’t apologise for the sadness you feel’. If you can’t unashamedly weep at the moment your pet leaves you when can you? We nurture our pets, we feed them, play with them, provide shelter and affection and when the time comes we save them from the final stages of physical deterioration and suffering. Grief is the price we pay for love, it is awful and terrible, but it is so because of the joy that we have had and the knowledge that the source of that joy is leaving us. 

Understandably, at the time of loss, many pet owners say to me that they won’t get another pet, that the sadness of losing them is too much to bear. But it is the joy that they give us that makes the grief so potent and it is the joy that we should remember. It is that very happiness that enriches our lives and reminds us why having a pet is a gift to be forever grateful for.