The death of a beloved companion animal can leave a massive hole in a family's life. But, unlike the death of a human family member, the death of a precious pet can leave a caring and devoted animal lover in emotional turmoil for other reasons, aside from the very real sense of grief experienced.
Not only is the bereavement real and very raw - that overwhelming sense of loss felt by anyone who has truly loved a pet - but other people may fail to understand the loss. They may even demonstrate prejudice or ridicule. Employers, friends, and even other family members, may react as if the death means little and that the individual should just 'pull themselves together'. Naturally, the death of a parent for example will sting more and be endured more than perhaps the death of a pet. We know from the start that our pets' lives are transient. Close, particularly familial and blood-bound, human bonds usually also surpass those created between a person and a pet.
Our pets intrinsically live much shorter lives than us, however the bonds of love and devotion that develop between a person and a pet companion should not be underestimated. Dogs, like us, are known to develop the kind of attachment that can be described as love. When they see their beloved person, scientists have proven that the 'cuddle' chemical oxytocin is produced in their brains. We also experience the same rush of this feel good hormone when we see or stroke our pets. This is why owning them has been shown to lower our blood pressure and help get our stress levels under control. This, in part, explains the real emotional pain felt by us on the loss of a beloved companion animal.
"These very real feelings are compounded by the now thankfully outmoded viewpoint that we should somehow 'hide' our emotions."
Thankfully, most bereaved pet owners can now expect to have a level of sympathy and support when a companion animal dies that may even include time off work. But, there is still a feeling that our pets' lives should not be celebrated and that once they have been laid to rest they should gradually be forgotten. However, when a living creature with the capacity for love brings so much joy into our lives, isn't it a crime - that only the most hard-hearted would ascribe to - that we should not also remember and celebrate their lives?
With this thought firmly in mind, Pets Magazine partnered with 3D pet sculptures creator Arty Lobster, who have a big market for pet memorials, to launch national Pet Remembrance Day in the UK. We felt there was a need for this special memorial day for pets to allow grief, and remembrance, to come into the open.
Lars Andersen, Managing Director of Arty Lobster, explained: "As a country, we still do not really know how to remember our pets and to deal with their loss. Pet Remembrance Day provides a space for people to remember departed pets and to celebrate their lives.
"A growing part of our customer base is served by people looking for that lasting memento mori of their pet. People want to have a good send off for their pet, which is most usually their dog or cat companion. They also want ways of remembering their pet and its quirks and character traits and the importance it played in their lives and the life of the family."
This year, Pet Remembrance Day, which takes place on Tuesday July 5, will raise vital funds for The Oldies Club. We wanted to fundraise for a special cause that would help older pets find loving homes in which to see out their final years.
Olive Armstrong, The Oldies Club, explains: "Our pets are members of our families too, and to dedicate a special day to remember them is a great idea.
"At The Oldies club, we have so many older dogs desperately in need of new forever homes in which to see out their final years. Older dogs can be the most loving and special dogs and they crave love and a nice spot in a warm home to snooze."
We had amazing support for last year's Pet Remembrance Day with many poignant stories of pet loss and grief as people shared their feelings, memories and photos of their departed pets on social media. The day also generated major support from groups such as The Rabbit Welfare Association and the campaigning group Cavaliers are Special as well as from a host of online and offline media. Using the hashtag #PetRemembranceDay, over 1000 people shared their stories in a national outpouring of grief over pet loss.
Celebrities including TV vet Emma Milne are already lining up to support the day.
Emma explains: "As a vet and a pet owner, I have experienced the devastation of pet loss from every angle. One of the hardest things for any vet is helping owners through the most difficult times of their lives but it is also our most important job. Having had to make the decision to end my own pets' lives as well as those of my clients' pets I completely understand the incredible sense of guilt and the mix of other emotions we all go through.
"For me, like everyone else, animals are part of the family. My 'boys', Pan and Badger, were with me for 15 years through thick and thin and their loss utterly crushed me. Events like Pet Remembrance Day are hugely important to bring people together through shared anguish and unite them to help them remember the great times with their pets rather than just the final moments."
Brilliant services such as the PDSA's Pet Bereavement Support Service have emerged that can help people cope with their grief. Many people worry about asking for time off from work after the death of a beloved companion animal, and the PBSS can advise on ways to have this important discussion with employers, as well as helping in other ways.
On July 5th, I will be joining the hundreds, and hopefully thousands, of other bereaved pet owners who will be remembering their beloved departed companion animals. Please put Pet Remembrance Day in your diary this year.
You can donate to The Oldies Club at: https://www.justgiving.com/oldies/donate
How you can take part on Pet Remembrance Day:
Pets Magazine and Arty Lobster have come up with several ways in which people can remember deceased pets on National Pet Remembrance Day, including:
- Give to The Oldies Club and help to support an older dog.
- Take part in a Twitter Chat to share stories and experiences and win a 3D sculpture of a beloved pet (competition to run from mid-June to July 5).
- A memorial service in a place where the pet liked to walk or play.
- A memento mori such as a sculpture of the pet
- A living memorial by planting a tree or flowerbed
- A pet portrait featuring the pet or their image printed on a coaster or other accessory
- A scrapbook, blog or social media channel, with photos and other reminders of the pet.
- A poem about the pet
Other ideas include:
- Keeping the pet's favourite toy, collar or blanket
- Volunteering at an animal rescue centre in remembrance of the pet
This article was published originally in Pets Magazine: https://www.petsmag.co.uk/blog/why-we-needed-national-pet-remembrance-day