ONE in ten animal lovers in the UK have turned to counselling or anti-depressants to deal with the loss of a pet.
A survey by Animal Friends Insurance found half of pet owners felt the same level of sadness as losing a relative.
Therapists who typically deal with people following the bereavement of a human relative or loved one now offer the same service for animals too.
Shona McLean is a trained counsellor and began taking clients who wanted to speak about their pets in January this year.
She explained: “Some people like to have face to face contact when it comes to speaking about something so emotional.
“Often they’re in our lives longer than a partner is, so when the time comes for them to go, we experience grief as we would for a person.”
The increasing humanisation of pets means that animal loving Brits pamper theirs more than ever, spending an average of £1200 a year on clothes, toys, food and pet sitters and dog walkers.
One survey by pet food brand tails.com found 41% of dog owners spoke to their pet more than their partner with the average owner chatting to their furry friend for 47 minutes a day.
Shona, 37, who lives in Doncaster and has a retired Greyhound, Phoebe, says pets are a huge part of family life and was inspired to help owners after her friend Emma turned to her when her Boxer dog Ruby was diagnosed with cancer.
Shona explained: “She was experiencing ‘anticipatory grief’ when she knew Ruby was ill, and was worried about how she would cope and her young daughter too.
“I was unable to counsel her as she is a friend, however I was able to support her in processing her grief feelings so she was able to celebrate Ruby’s life.
“She had a party for her and took her for a final run on the beach and made sure Ruby, herself and her daughter had special memories to treasure.
“I wanted to help other owners as there is still a stigma around grieving for pets. People will say, ‘Oh, it’s only a dog or a cat, get another one.’
“But these animals are loved like family members. Often, young children confide in their dog or cat when they’re little and go into their adult life with them.
“For the elderly, the pet may be their only companion. They give us unconditional love. So it’s natural to need to grieve when they’re no longer with us.
“The most important thing to understand is that it is OK to feel this way. With any bereavement, talking about these feelings can help us to process them.
“Sadly, if this doesn’t happen and people try to bottle it up, it can manifest in mental health problems later on.”
Shona’s advice is to find someone who you can talk to, whether it be an understanding friend or a professional counsellor, and take as much time as you need to grieve.
There are helplines to call too. The Blue Cross animal charity offers a pet bereavement helpline service for families and advice and literature for how to explain the loss to children. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-support
The British Horse Society have a ‘Friends at the End’ scheme supporting owners when they have to say goodbye with over 100 volunteers trained up to help. http://www.bhs.org.uk/welfare-and-care/euthanasia-and-friends-at-the-end
And the Animal Welfare Foundation has a leaflet, ‘Saying goodbye – the ultimate kindness’ informing owners about euthanasia. https://www.bva-awf.org.uk/pet-care-advice/saying-goodbye
This story highlighting Shona’s work appeared in the Sunday Mirror.
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