Losing a pet is a painful experience and is one many of us go through. We talk about why it's ok to cry.
Do we humans really deserve pets? I think the resounding answer would be no, we do not.
Over the past few days, it has been dogs that have formed an integral part of any conversation I have had. This is due to a loved one of mine losing their beloved pet just last week. A constant friend and companion over a decade who made their house a home. They had been foretold of the impending loss, they knew what lay ahead, but no amount of warnings could make the finality of it any easier.
And I know, it’s not a human and the losses should be weighed against each other but pets wiggle their way into a family unit and cement their status as a lifelong member. Ask a child to draw a picture of their family, the family pet will always be included. Ask me about my family and I will recite a synopsis on the idiosyncrasies of our beloved collie Prince.
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Losing a pet is an important conversation to have because it is heartbreaking. It leaves you reeling and raw and suddenly it all seems too quiet and cold in a home, like a draft has manifested through the gap that is left.
I too have felt the loss of a much-cherished pet and it’s a feeling that is sometimes inexpressible. Thinking about it in a logical manner leaves you devastated. It was a soul that never once spoke to you. You never knew what they were thinking or feeling but you were acutely aware. One look in their eyes or one nudge of a nose said it all. They loved you. Completely.
Where did it begin?
Originally, the relationship between us and dogs was merely a service contract of sorts. There were working dogs, used for a purpose, not for companionship or love. However, soon humans began to recognise the distinctive attention and affection that they gave. And there is evidence to show that thousands of years ago, humans gave a similar level of love and adoration to dogs as we do now.
The relationship between cats and humans is a story 12,000 years long with the earliest indication originating in Cyprus 9,000 years ago where the remains of a cat were found buried next to a human.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, many of those in need of evacuation sat on the roof of their houses with their pet in wait. When the time came, the people were saved but the pets were not. An estimated 600,000 pets died or were left without shelter. There was national outcry which prompted a change in the law that demanded state and local governments factor pets into emergency evacuation plans. The government had completely underestimated the bond between people and their animals.
At the crux of this relationship is the unquestionable human need for love. And the love that pets give is unconditional. No strings attached, no questions asked, no reason needed. Even in your darkest hour, on your darkest day, they will love you. No matter what. For their entire lives, you are the centre of their universe. The world starts and ends with you and the tides of time hold no meaning.
Sometimes, a pet is someone’s only friend. A creature that looks at you like you are God, the sun, the moon and the stars all at once, while you look at them for solace. Through cold nights, they keep you warm and on lonely days, they are a comforting presence which protects you from feeling lost.
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Some say that people shouldn't take the loss of a pet as hard as they do — that it is an inevitability. However, feeling sadness or pain is the real inevitability. Feelings are to be felt so don't be ashamed that you feel less than ok over a four-legged friend. It's hard sometimes to describe feelings, and maybe this one is particularly perplexing because, unlike humans, the relationship isn't a series of conversations but a series of moments.
But isn’t it wonderful that we had it? That we had them. For whatever amount of time, whether it be fleeting or lasting. Because no matter what people say, pets are family. So cry if you need to cry. Feel sad when you feel sad.
I may have been wrong— maybe we do deserve pets and maybe they deserve us too.
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