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  • Writer's pictureCindy Pearson Garcia

Healing Your Heart After the Loss of a Pet

It is easy to know why we fall in love with animals. Feelings of unconditional love, companionship, connectedness, and comfort come easily. Their loving, carefree spirits, coupled with an often adorable appearance, makes for hours of entertainment. They offer a space for us to be ourselves, without fear of judgment, and always seem to be there. The bonds we create with pets can be so profound, that we consider them to be our best friends and beloved members of our families.

An abundance of research supports the relationship between animal companionship and improved emotional and physical health.

According to an article within The National Library of Medicine, one of the biggest benefits to human-animal interaction is combatting loneliness. Having a loyal pet companion at home, who is often there to greet you with excitement, brings warmth to a person’s life. The authors describe that pets provide support, affection, purpose, comfort, reassurance, security, companionship, and increased self-esteem. Pets are also "social ice-breakers”, bringing more confidence and ease to our public outings. Moreover, spending time with pets is a natural mood booster, with studies confirming an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels in the body during interactions.

The Covid-19 Pandemic, a time marked for many by isolation and loneliness, illuminated the importance of animals as companions. Data from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 20% American households adopted a new cat or dog.

Providing physical touch, instilling a sense of purpose and hope, reducing stress, and filling companionship needs were all vital services that pets provided during the pandemic.

Furthermore, decades of research point to the positive impacts that pets have on human health. Pet owners are documented to have fewer visits to the doctor, improved heart health and be physically more fit than non-owners. Animal interactions also function as a natural stress relief, by reducing cortisol levels and lowering blood pressure.

Grieving Your Pet

For all the listed reasons and more, losing a pet can be devastating. It is important to know that your feelings are valid, and that your heartbreak will take time to heal. While some studies suggest that it takes most people an average of one year to overcome their grief after losing a pet, everyone is different. As you recover during this tender time, consider some of the tips below:

Healing Your Heart After the Loss of a Pet

1) Be patient with yourself: You just lost your best friend. Let the waves of grief come without attachment. Life is going to feel different for a while as you adjust to a routine without your pet. Prioritize self-care and do something special for yourself. While you will never forget your special pet, you will heal in time.

2) Honor your pet: Express your love for your pet through a poem, song, drawing, alter/shrine, or any way you feel called. Creativity can be a wonderful outlet to give voice to your grief and reflect on all the ways that your pet brought beauty to your life. Donating to a pet shelter may be an alternative for those who are not feeling creative.

3) Join a support group: Sometimes one of the most healing things to do when grieving is have someone listen to your story. It feels good to be heard. It feels good to share your story and for others to validate your experience. Many cities in the US have online and/or in-person groups dedicated to dealing with pet loss and grief.

4) Pet Compassion Careline offers 24/7 grief support with trained counselors who understand how impactful the loss of a beloved pet can be: 855-245-8214

5) The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook is a profoundly compassionate site where people share their stories of their sweet pets and the challenges they face as they process loss.

This post is dedicated to Yopi, one of Cindy's best friends, who passed earlier this year.

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