Yesterday, a SCA friends of mine lost their very young dog to a congenital hernia. In a very beautiful tribute to Finnegan, his owner wrote:
I think I have this loss in some perspective. We lost a pet we loved. We did not lose a spouse, a child, a parent, or a loved human relative or friend.
But goddamn it hurts.
I wrote back:
He was a dog but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t hurt as much as when a human dies. It’s how much someone has given to your life that matters, not what species they are.
This poked a tender spot for me. Only a few weeks ago, I listened to a drunk “friend” rant on about how people spent too much money to save their pets and how he thought it was stupid that anyone would spend 3, 4, 5 hundred dollars or several thousand to preserve their pet’s life or improve its quality. In the past, when friends have lost their pets, a significant number of them felt impelled to add the “disclaimer” of “I know it’s only a dog…” or “It’s not the same as losing your spouse/kid/friend/whatever, but…”.
I wonder whether it’s because they’re afraid that if they say, “I lost my dog and I feel as awful as if I had lost a very dear friend or family member” they will be censured for it. Worse, perhaps people will band together to tell them that their feelings are really misguided and wrong and mean that they are in some way emotionally defective.
Some people who can accept that you love your spouse or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your kids or the friend you’ve had for twenty years or even the friend you’ve only had for a few weeks cannot accept that you can love your dog with a deep and abiding feeling that goes just as deep for you as the many relationships you have with your friends and family. In fact, they will often outright attack your love with the infamous, “It’s just a dog!” or “At least it wasn’t your CHILD”, continually picking at the love you have and the loss you feel with little belittling comments designed to relegate your feelings to their level.
Perhaps it’s fear that prompts this response. Of what? Is it that these people are afraid that you’ll save the dog first if you’re all in a burning building? Do they think that loving the dog so much somehow means that you’ll value them less? What insecurity prompts people to say things they would not dream of saying if it was anyone but a dog? And to say it in such a way that you can hear their smugness in putting forth an opinion they feel is backed up by the majority of humanity?
And why should we, as pet owners, bow to this insecurity and support it by denying ourselves the full measure of grief that our pets have earned by sharing our lives? I don’t like it when people feel that they have to justify their feelings for their pets. I think that it’s bullshit. To feel a huge, agonizing loss at the death of a pet should not carry with it the need to reassure people that you value human life more.