On death

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.


  1. IMO, invalidating someone else’s depth of emotion simply based on some “weird” relevance scale is callous and inconsiderate.

    My deepest condolences go out to your friend for her loss. 🙁

  2. We send our condolences for your friend’s loss.

    In our family, our dogs are considered part of the family. My dad has always considered his dogs as being part of his family (not as high ranking as the humans, but still part of the family, none the less). I’ve made a deal with my boyfriend, I don’t want kids, the dogs are our kids. When we talk to each other, we frequently refer to our dogs as our kids.

    I’ve had a few friends who, when they lost their dog, were sad and depressed and tried to explain to my why they were sad. I told them, you lost part of your family, I understand. The dog was your # child. They all were quite glad that I understood that the dog was not just a dog, it was another child in their family. Truthfully, I like dogs better than I do kids. I like kids when I can return them to their parents and when they’re young. Once they hit that rebellious stage, I’m not a fan. At least with dogs, they give you unconditional love. Even if they got in trouble an hour ago for peeing in the house or some other trouble, they forgive you and come back to you and love you. It’s like Dug from the Disney/Pixar movie UP: “I hid under the porch because I love you.” and he said that after being yelled at by Earl.

    Oh hey, another plus. Dogs are cheaper than kids. =P Kids and dogs, you provide food, shelter, toys, (maybe clothes, depending on breed and where you live), health care, schooling, and you spend time with them. But with kids, you have that extra schooling money aka college, the times when they want to wear brand clothing, so you have to pay extra just for the shirt to say “Armani,” you have to deal with their rebellious stage. Oh don’t forget car insurance and car. With a dog, after you spend time training together, the only bills you really have are the vet bills and the food bills. He doesn’t care for brand name toys, he just wants you to throw the ball, so he can go fetch it. Armani, Bebe, Polo, Coach, Louis Vitton don’t mean anything to him. Plus training with him is just more time you two spend together. He wants to be at your side (or in an independent dog’s case, in the same room as you) and keep you company.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like kids, but I don’t want kids of my own. I’m perfectly content with my two dogs being my kids.

    Anyways, my dogs are my kids.

  3. I’ve noticed that people from rural backgrounds in aprticular tend to be hostile to the idea of pets in general, although this attitude certainly isn’t limited to them. They find it disgusting that there are people who keep dogs and cats around the house just for company, not because they serve any useful purpose.

    I used to live in a small town where a lot of the people either were farmers or who grew up on farms. Many of them had hunting dogs or kept cats to kill mice, but they had as much feeling for these animals as they would have for a piece of farm machinery. And once the animal became unable to do its job, or started costing more than they felt it was worth, it was discarded, often simply turned loose to fend for itself.

    I suppose that when it’s an everyday occurrence to have to kill an animal you raised or otherwise you don’t eat, you can’t get sentimental about any animal. For that matter, a lot of farm families used to be, and maybe still are, ruthless about putting their young children to work on the farm. Sometimes this was a matter of survival for a poor family, but even a lot of well-off farmers felt their children should be working, not getting more of an education that was absolutely necessary, or (horrors!) actually playing or pursuing a hobby. This sort of upbringing isn’t likely to produce an adult who symapthizes easily with others’ suffering.

    Try explaining why you paid over a thousand dollars for a dog’s surgery to this sort of people, or why you’re so sad when a pet dies. They simply can’t understand it, any more than they could understand somebody mourning the loss of a washing machine they can easily replace. To be charitable, I can see how somebody who was treated with little sympathy or concern when he was a child would grow up being unable to sympathize with another’s pain, or even finding it unbearable to see a mere animal receiving more care than he ever did.

    Of course, on a less sentimental note, there are a lot of people out there who are so self-centered they can’t grasp that anybody else can suffer.

  4. Unfortunately, in this last year, several of my friends at work lost family members– it was a very unfortunate year. In every case, it was a parent losing a child, and it was truly tradegic the number of funerals that we had last year.

    At one point, the Union- who guarantees the time off for bereavement and protected several individuals who needed extra time off for mourning, made mention that they needed to include under the bereavement clause a special addendum for Cortez because everyone knew that if I ever lost him, I would be as traumatized.

    And I don’t call him my kid. He is too mature and stoic for that. But he is my best friend, and I don’t want to think about life without him.

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