I’ve been very touched by the anecdotes readers have sent about their pets. If you’ve read them, you may have noticed that many of them are about beloved pets who are no longer here. Over and over, people have written about a departed pet and said, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him/her.” There’s no surprise in that, of course, but the stories have been poignant reminders of the strength and permanence of bonds between people and their pets.
I’m not sure that we honor that bond enough, or that we respect the grief people feel when a beloved pet dies. People who’ve never loved and lost a pet often dismiss the depth of affection between people and their pets. Thinking all pets are interchangeable, they sometimes rush in with advice to replace a departed pet right away, forgetting that every pet has a unique personality and an irreplaceable place in a person’s life.
Fearing that response, some people who deeply love their pets are embarrassed to let the world know how much they care about them. They don’t admit they turn down invitations to happy hour with the office gang because they want to go home and take their dog to the park. Or they make up lame excuses for being late for outings with friends instead of confessing they were playing with the cat and lost track of time. And when their close four-legged friends die after ten or twenty years of devoted companionship, they hide their pain from their two-legged friends. They pretend to recover from the loss more quickly than they really do, and they don’t confess the tears they shed.
We should, as a society, respect grief over a lost pet. We should, as pet owners, honor our own grief when we lose a beloved pet. And we should, as friends of pet owners, acknowledge and honor the bonds between them and their pets. Many good, loving people live their entire lives without a pet, and some of those people are dear friends of mine. Other close friends have always shared their lives with pets and always will. I respect both non-pet people and pet-people, but I don’t even want to know anybody who has lost a beloved pet and does not hold its memory dear.