Similarities between the way we grieve for our loved ones and animal friends


There isn’t a definite answer, nonetheless, the theoretical models of human bereavement can serve as guidelines to understanding the normal response to loss.

“Bereavement: A loss due tot the death of someone to whom one feels close, and the process of adjustment to that loss. Additionally, behaviour of the bereaved and the community after a death, including culturally accepted customs and ritual is referred to as  mourning (Papalia & Wendkos-Olds, 1998).”

Sometimes, pet owners are faced with a difficult question: whether to euthanise a pet. Euthanasia is in fact a decision that lies within the owner, of terminating the life of the animal. This decision further complicates the grief and guilt on pet owners. Mckhann (1999) stated “man is the only animal that can contemplate its own mortality” (p.134). Thus this affects the social consequences that inevitably follows when the decision of euthanising a pet has been made.

The process and decision of euthanasia is common for pet owners, but with little public awareness among pet owners. Which result in pet owners doubting themselves with regards to grieving over their pets and also to get through this guilt that leaves within them.

“This also tells us that society fails to identify and understand the magnitude of animal euthanasia and how it impacts the pet owner and the bereavement process. (pg. 5)”

Therapist will be confronted with a patient who makes decision about euthanising their pet. As a therapist, it is imperative that one’s bias does not enter into the client’s decision-making process. According to Ross-Barton and Baron-Soren:
“Client seek your help because they are confused and upset. They may be unable to think clearly and rationally. They may require a great deal of support in working through their issues in order to achieve an acceptable solution.”

similarities of human and pet bereavement

Through the above table, guilt is a common emotion that follows the death of a pet. An apparent reason is to euthanise a pet. Additionally, when a pet owners cannot afford to save the pet’s life.


On the other hand, Freud’s main proposition mourning is that it is an expression of pathological mourning. Which is believed that the loss of a significant other is a conscious concern of the mourners who are aware of their own feelings, of what the lost person means to them and how the loss may change their lives.


Nieburg and Fischer (1982) identified that pet attachement at different stages will result in different grief reactions. Example, couples who do not have kids and have pets instead, regards their pets as kids. This in turn would result the couple to experience the same type of painful separation and grief responses that a parent goes through when they lose a child. This applies to individuals as well, as they are dependent on pets to give them a sense of companionship. Lastly, older pet owners gets easily attached to pets as it is like their last purpose in life to care for someone else. They can active with them and becomes productive. Thus with different attachment comes along with the grief that could be similar to that when a human loses someone close to them.

The death of a pet can hurt as much as a that of a relative

” I am no stranger to death.” described Joe. His father died due to a stroke and not long after his sister passed on due to cancer. However, the death of “his dog seems even harder.”

Some would be in doubt of their feelings, how could the death of a canine possibly hurt as much as that of a family member?

However it is proven by researches that the animal-human bond is strong. Some pet owners even feel shameful that they are grieving more for their pets than for a sibling or parents.

“But when they realize that the difference is the pet gave them constant companionship, and there was total dependency, then they start to realize that is the reason behind grieving so intensely,” Sandra Barker, director of the Center for Human-Animal interaction.

Even the span with a dog can only last from 13 – 15 years, it is the daily interactions. Every morning them greeting you, when you put on your shoes they would sit beside you, take him out for walks, such interaction actually happened countless times. Hence it make sense that when they are gone. such activities and gestures disappear to, with emptiness being in replaced.

With relatives, even your own family members, there bound to be countless disputes and conflicts over various reasons, but the relationship with a pet dog is way simpler; their love and support seems to have no strings attached.

More than just a dog

Thankfully, many of my closest friends, family members and co-workers have been wonderfully sympathetic, and for that I’m grateful. Others have seemed reluctant to talk about my grief, and I suspect that it’s because they’re trying to stay in denial about the prospect of losing their own animal or trying not to remember the death of a previous one. My least-favorite reaction comes from those who are aiming to be supportive but regularly ask me when I’m going to adopt another dog, a reaction that seems tantamount to saying, “Get over it already. He was just a dog. Isn’t one as good as another?”

That can lead to what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised grief.

“Simply stated, many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgment as the death of a person,” researchers wrote in a 2003 article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Unfortunately, this tends to inhibit people from grieving fully when a pet dies.”


Cremation and columbarium services for pets have expanded because of growing demand

Human’s visit Mandai, temples and places with tombstones and columbarium to pay respect to their deceased loved ones. What about pet owners?

“Every so often, a columbarium in Pasir Ris is packed with visitors carrying tributes for their loved ones. But instead of flowers and joss sticks, they place old toys and cans of Cesar or Whiskas in the see-through niches.

This is no regular columbarium for humans, but one meant for pets.

Handwritten notes with touching messages, as well as mementoes and photos from when the pet was alive, decorate each niche.”

The services of pet columbarium have increased significantly, surged in popularity in recent years, says Mr Patrick Lim Thye Song, the undertaker at Pets Cremation Centre in Pasir Ris Farmway 2. Mr Lim had expanded his business to another facility in Ubi due to the growing demand.

Says Mr Lim, 63: “When pets die, their owners grieve as though a sibling or a child has passed away. Funeral services give them the closure they need.” 

“Pet owners want a solution as soon as possible. When they are so upset, few people can bear to leave the bodies lying there,” he adds.

Ms Ling Ing, an administrator at Mount Pleasant, said that columbarium for pets is the only “safe” option for owners. This is because in Singapore, there are no burial sites earmarked for animals, hence pet owners do not have any other proper solution other than discarding them away.

Says Ms Ling: “Without a burial ground, cremation is the only choice for them.”

After all, niches don’t come cheap.
(So as a Designer, how I can allow pet owners to keep their ashes/ memories of their pets without paying monthly for a niche?)

While expanding business and columbarium is on the rise, both companies lease would end soon, then what will happen after that? Hence this is where I should step in, to create something for pet owners to still remember their pet, “beautify them”, talk to them and constantly still able to “feel and touch them”.