IF A colleague breaks down at work as a result of the death of a friend or relative they are generally surrounded by sympathy and understanding.
Make that a pet and suddenly the sympathy and understanding tend to disappear.
“As a result, a lot of the grief is hidden,” says Caroline Davis, who is writing a book on the subject and needs help from readers.
“You find people are able to talk to other friends or relatives when someone has died, but they find it difficult to talk about a pet’s death because the same level of support isn’t there because it’s ‘just an animal’ but that pet might be the only friend or companion that person has.”
Caroline, who lives in Gedney Hill, has been an animal lover since childhood when her parents bred dogs and cats and ran a boarding kennels.
Since then she has had “a multitude of cats, dogs and horses”.
For those who have never owned a pet, Caroline describes the joy as: “They give unconditional love.
“People love their pets just as they would another family member and, unlike humans, pets don’t judge and they are always there.
“It doesn’t matter if you have had a good day or a bad day, owners come home and see to the pet before they feed themselves.”
Unfortunately, pets tend not to live as long as their owners, so Caroline has also experienced the death of a number of them over the years.
She says that, just as when a human dies, owners frequently feel guilt and wonder if they could have done something differently.
“Some people keep the pet going as long as possible, even when it is to the pet’s detriment, because they can’t face having to make that decision,” Caroline says. “For some people, such as an elderly or single person, the pet may be the only real friend they have got in their life.
“When the pet gets old or is injured it is a massive loss for them, and often it can be greater than a human loss.
“I think the kindest thing you can do for a pet is to take responsibility and not to think of it as a human but to do the best thing by the pet.”
People ascribe human feelings to their pets because they believe they understand every word and believe the pet ‘talks’ back to them.
“No, they don’t,” says Caroline. “Pets learn to do things by routine and if you feed a cat at 5pm every day it is going to expect it and whinge if it doesn’t get it. People are putting their own feelings and thoughts on to animals.”
Caroline, who has worked on the major UK pet magazines and written more than a dozen books on pets, mainly practical pet care books and some on alternative therapies for pets and horses, is in the process of writing a book that will help pet owners deal with this difficult aspect of pet ownership.
As Caroline puts it: “I hope it will help them realise it’s not something to be frightened or ashamed of and to realise their feelings are totally natural.”
Caroline concedes there are plenty of books already on the market about pet bereavement, but they tend to be American, whereas Caroline’s is written from a British viewpoint and will be full of useful resources, such as contacts for pet bereavement counsellors, and practical information as well as being easy to read.
To assist with the book, Caroline would like to hear other people’s experiences of pet bereavement and how they coped – or didn’t.
l Email Caroline at email@example.com or telephone on 01406 331421