Buster was always there. Our family companion throughout my childhood, Buster somehow found his way in all the pictures and videos from birthdays and holidays now decades back. The Black lab who aged alongside me, went from an energized, playful puppy in the backyard to a sedentary, reliable presence when I returned home every day from school. Life was unknown without Buster who loved doggy treats, loved walks, and most importantly loved us.
Arthritis took hold of Buster’s knees, the edges of his mouth grayed, and the “can’t wait to see you” greetings flattened. A sad look and a wagging tail rarely left the garage, and yet I was still happy he was there, even though our greetings now transitioned to my being more happy to see him. It was a Sunday when my Dad realized 14 years was a good run for an aged companion who now significantly labored just to stand and breathe. I awkwardly said goodbye, petted Buster, and watched Dad dejectedly carry Buster into the Blue Station wagon for the last time.
Writing about Buster still brings up feelings of sadness and anxiety, the feeling I would never see Buster again and the anxious thoughts of not being able to greet him when I returned from school. Countless people of all ages have experienced pet loss---a deep sadness or despair for a pet that is no longer with them. Loss of companionship, loss of someone to care for, loss of a living being that has been a constant, nonjudgmental companion through life’s highs and lows…why do people so often minimize the feelings and emotions experienced with pet loss? A friend of mine recently told me that while she has experienced several losses in her life, the death of her mother, and the passing of her 16-year old cat are the most significant losses in her life.
It’s problematic to dismiss or minimize the significant role a beloved pet can play in our lives. Often when we are going through difficult experiences it’s our pets who stand by us, no matter how our actions and feelings are interpreted by others. Pets don’t berate or ridicule. They don’t beat us down literally or metaphorically. They simply care about us, regardless of our flaws.
I’m convinced my childhood years and beyond would have been more difficult without Buster or the other pets that have come into my life. Pets can be a great source of emotional support, and the loss of companionship can be felt very deeply. Grieving pet loss is an opportunity to honor the loving presence a faithful companion provided, while acknowledging the emotional impact of such a unique bond and the difficult feelings regarding the loss. For someone who may be struggling with pet loss I offer you my condolences and encourage you to seek the emotional support that you deserve. As a clinical psychologist I am honored to work with those who are suffering from pet loss. Perhaps it is my way of being thankful for the pets that have deeply impacted my life. I welcome your thoughts, comments, or questions.