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”.

Not all agrees in laying your pets to rest in dignity

When a beloved pet dies, some bury in gardens, some leave in the vet’s freezer before going through a mass incineration while some spends on a PET CEMETERY complete with coffin, memorial plaque and poetry reading.
To some this is a way of saying a last goodbye, or the least that they could last do for them. And this is among a minority in UK.

Statistics (based on UK)
1.5 million pet dogs and cats die each year
300,000 buried in garden  |  1,000 in pet cemeteries  |  100,000 individually cremated  |  remaining disposed as clinical waste

Individual burials range from S$550 – S$1000
Cremation with ashes S$100 – S$350
Communal cremation S$5 – S$35


While not all are willing to spend on pet funerals, a marketing company Mintel, found that a quarter of pet owners have organized funerals for their pets, with more than 50 crematoriums and cemeteries in Britain offering this service.
To this writer, organizing an elaborate funeral for a furry friend strikes as over the top, not very British as it originates in America where pet funerals are a booming business, according to reports where 500,000 pet funerals were conducted in USA in 2013.

Thinking that these elaborate rites for animals is just a way of making money at the expense of the bereaved. Complicating things further, than just burying in the backyard. To her, a funeral would not have eased her pain. She went through her pet’s death by burying in her garden after taking the body from the vet. Even though she felt awful about the indignity to be placed in a thrash bag from the vet, a funeral was not necessary still. It would add on financially and also for arranging such services would be another hassle.

7 things to do after someone dies

These are guides to what usually will be done after a loved one passes on. (mainly in U.K)
1  Get a medical certificate [stating the cause of death from a doctor]
2  Formally register the death [at a local registration office in which you will get a certificate for burial or cremation and a certificate of death]
3  Arrange for funeral [follow the deceased wishes if they have]
4  Report the death [to various government departments, organisations. There is a service ‘Tell us once’ which makes a report to all sectors in one go]
5  Check if there is a will left behind [property, possessions]
6  Get the mail redirected
7  Grant of representation [having the legal right to access the deceased’s personal accounts]


Just quick thoughts to my ideation:
When a pet passes on, I believe some of these guides may apply as well. And some should be applied in order to help the guardian of the pet to deal and get over things in an easier manner.

1  Probably having a medical certificate with reasons from the vet as to why the pet passes on.
Example, for some who went through euthanasia, the vet could have stated the reason that it was the best alternative. And that it was wiser a choice for a cure to the pet’s suffering.

2  Registering a pet’s death: Shows how important a pet can be as well. Usually registering for something reflects sense of ownership, the responsibility that comes along. Even when a newborn baby is due, there is a registry that records and to a mobile phone, you have to register in order to activate it. Thus to mark the journey of the pet, registering the death to me reflects the honour you have for it.

3  A funeral rite may not be something grand, but having a last goodbye, the last journey works the same to a pet. In it, there lives a soul too.

4  Well, not having to report to any government sector, but probably it will be nice for close friends to know, where they will be more sympathetic hopefully.

5 – 7  To me before the pet passes on, family members could probably come together to do keepsake together with the pet. Write happy memories to yourself which you once had. Remind yourself that you loved your pet and vice-versa, all that matters. It should only be ‘unlocked’ when the pet passes on.  This is to remind you that you once shared memories and that should be a positive feeling. With these happy memories, hopefully it takes away your grief in a more prepared situation. And who knows, sometimes death could be sudden which leaves you unprepared to capture the moments you once share with the pet. Hence, this ‘pet will’ is something prepared together with your pet previously and all but happy memories.

The switch from “black” to “colorful”

Even till now, i believe when the word “funeral” is mentioned, everyone links it to a sombre event, mourning, sadness, grief and everything black. However, tradition changed, the once deemed sombre event has been “challenged to be held at gardens, sport venues and beauty spots”.

There has been a research done with funeral directors and a separate poll based on UK adults.
49% of Co-op funeral directors said they held funeral services at locations that was beyond churches and crematorium in the last 12 months.
37% of UK adults who participated in the poll chose out of the norm location for their own rite.

hearses based on the deceased's professionCulture shifts from a traditional sombre tribute to a celebration of life and this has become a trend. No longer dressed in black outfits, but outfits that are colourful or meaningful to the deceased. Some even hold a cake competition in memory of a loved one.

The actor Richard Wilson, star of One Foot in the Grave and narrator of the end-of-life documentary Two Feet in the Grave, said: “Death is the most certain thing in life but as a nation we struggle so terribly to talk about it and come to terms with our own and others mortality. Life is short and so I understand why people don’t want to dwell on the inevitable, but as the possibilities are endless, it makes sense to at least share some thoughts about what you may want.”

3 steps to emotional healing

• reach out to your support system.
According to Tonya, psychotherapist, people often turn to isolation when struggling with grief or depression. However reconnecting yourself to people you often use to hang out with, do activities that you often indulge in before falling into this deep hole will help alot.

After which of reconnecting with the activities and people, it is the time to reflect back about the grief and sadness that you experienced, a review to better understand the situation and yourself.
Question such as “what did you do to get through the grief”,”Who helped you?” and how you can continue to stay out this grief.
Some will think that by thinking about it again is as good as falling back into the trap. however allowing yourself to review the sadness shows how tough you were to survive. And also a time in which you could consider other options in future when dealt with grief. This applies well to me when sometimes I thought back about a quarrel I encountered with and I realised how silly I was and there were ways in which I could better deal it with.

“Allow your body to be active as you engage with the world, but also let your emotions rest, as they have been on a roller coaster of sadness, darkness and re-emergence to light.”

How therapists treats patients #1

A New Treatment Program for the Grief That Won’t End 

“Loss of a loved one is a natural, universally experienced life event and, at the same time, among life’s most challenging experiences.” – Dr. Shear in an article for Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, published in June 2012.

According to research, usually right after death, the intensity of grief also known as “acute grief” will be manageable as time goes by.

“It’s a transformation from acute grief to what we call integrated grief,” Shear explained. “The person stops dominating your mind and rests peacefully in your heart.”

Shear further noted that grief never really ends: “You’re never really going to stop missing someone whom you love who dies.” For most people, however, grief changes as they process their loss and start to re-engage in life.

Dr Shear helps in treating patients suffering from “complicated grief” – people whom felt like it happened just yesterday even though their loved ones was gone for more than a year.


One treatment is “imaginal revisiting” where the patient tells the story of learning about the death and is made to listen to the recorded version everyday. This is help them accept reality and coming to terms with it.

Why can’t 2 co-exist?

To many, pets are like their next of kin, just that some of them have fur. Thus, there is this term to these new breed of kids, ‘furbaby’.

I have read so many articles on how pets, especially cats and dogs have become the a family member and plays different roles in the family. To some, they are a companion, a kid (for couples who do not have children) and a physical living thing other than a human to give them warmth and love.

“I can vividly recall the rapturous joy, the first time he was placed in my arms, 15 years ago – I felt something in my heart twist: the physical sensation of falling in love. In an emotional sense, he was my first child – only this baby was furry, with whiskers and a tail.”
Anna Maxed who received her pet cat and described it as a ‘person disguised as a cat.

When pets pass away, owners have to grief and cry their hearts out in private. Because to public, this is something deemed as ‘offensive, embarrassing and shameful’ to be grieving of a dead pet.

“Why can’t the two co-exist?” referring to the bereavement of a pet and a person?

Research on emotions of pet loss

Pet Loss and Human Emotion  [A research based on reflection on pet loss]

What are the different relationship with pets?
What are the attachment and roles played by the pet in the owner’s life?
Pets are starting to be accepted and treated as a family member. Their level of commitment in terms of health and food care needs is way higher than other family members. Pets play a significant role in our daily lives, some even are dependent on them. Taking dogs as an example, they are trained to aid the disabled, they can even detect someone suffering from cancer and other illness. Demographics even showed that 6 out of 10 households have pets in the United States. There are more pets as compared to the number of children in the households. Which shows are pets are becoming part of a family.
To some, their pets are their playmate, “a brother they never had”, “the boyfriend always present”, the best confidant. Pets are always there for them, someone they could rely on for physical and emotional contact.

Animals have a soul, in which like human, they are able to shower owners with unconditional love, exhibit honesty, dignity and the intelligence. Some see their pets as a splitting image of themselves. In which one could notice similarities between the owner and pet; personality, temperament, attitude and style. (Gunter, 1999).



Mourning are also categorised under a few sorts, self-blame, regret, helplessness, in which leads to grief. There are all sorts of grief that applies to different cases of how the pets passes on. However, the stages of grief can be summarised into 3 stages:

1. Shock and denial
It happens when coming to terms of pet’s death, not wanting to accept the fact that the pet could not live any longer or even the fact that they are gone. This results in owners fear that such instances of death will happen again to someone close to them or other pets. Not wanting to visit places that will bring back memories of their time spent together with the pet.
2. Emotional pain and suffering
Some feel the sense of guilt because they feel they cused the death of their pet indirectly such as not looking after them properly, or even the choice of euthanasia. The psychological pain and suffering might lead them to have difficulty interacting with others in future, or not being able to overcome the grief which leads to physical symptoms such as fatigue and headaches.
3. Acceptance and resolution
There are 2 kinds of people, one who accept the pet loss and the other who are not able to. The first group of people will wish to retain memories spent with their pets are are gone. While the latter will be too traumatised and overcome with emotions but still, they are able to relieve their grief through help and support.

In the current culture, not many will be willing or have a platform to share about how their pets relate to them, how the dismissal of their pets affect them. Reason being, others who can’t relate to the feelings of pet owners finds it strange.

There is a lack of responsiveness to pet loss that causes this topic to be a grey area. Formal support could mean coming from the expertise, therapists to deal with emotional turmoil, and even veterinarian to give the best possible advice on how to deal with illnesses and major decisions. Informal support from family members, friends and even owners who understands their plight.
These areas are missing in which social support is not given to such pet owners. No or little communication between veterinarians and pet owners are received. The states of being emotional could get better with counselling and support. And even the process of mourning for a pet could be accepted and deemed normal from the society has yet to be voiced.