For Laurel, in loving memory

The issue of bereavement at losing a pet can be quite a divisive subject. For many people, “it’s just an animal”. Many years ago, I met a counsellor who held that opinion. I recall there was some sort of discussion around the importance of offering empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence (the foundation upon which person centred counselling is based) to clients. He was asked, hypothetically, if he would able to offer these core conditions to a client who had just lost their dog. I remember the scornful expression on his face as he exclaimed “But it’s not the same as the death of a person”. At least he was honest enough to admit that he just didn’t get it. He isn’t alone in this view. I’ve met plenty of people over the years that say they don’t particularly like animals. And he’s right, to be fair. It isn’t the same as losing a person – although I’ve also heard a lot of animal lovers say they much prefer their pets to people, and I’m not always sure if they’re joking either. I suppose it just depends on your viewpoint.

The PDSA carried out a survey last year. The aptly named PAW (PDSA Animal Wellbeing) Report found that 52% of UK adults owned a pet. It was estimated that there were 10.2 million pet dogs, 11.1 million pet cats and 1 million pet rabbits. So from a statistical perspective, pet bereavement is going to be experienced by more than half of the UK population.

Let me be clear about where I stand on this. My cat died recently, and I will say to you, without any trace of embarrassment, that I am heartbroken. Like many others, I considered my pet to be part of the family. Will I grieve as long as for human family members I have lost? Possibly not. But I am grieving for Laurel, my little black and white cat (who had an irritating habit of draping herself around my neck at inconvenient moments, such as in the middle of Zoom meetings), and it feels quite raw at times. I can be triggered by a reminder on the calendar to buy flea treatment, or even the sight of a bag of frozen prawns can provoke that sudden tightening in the throat. The silence in the house feels deafening, and her lack of presence very keenly felt. When you have a pet, their needs are woven into your daily routine. I find myself rising at the same time each morning when actually, I don’t need to anymore – I have no bowls to fill or litter tray to clean. We have friends whose ability to join in with social activities revolves around their commitment to their dogs. As animal lovers, this seems perfectly reasonable.

So when a significant part of your life is taken up with caring for your pet, is it really that surprising that we mourn them when they die? For some owners, their pet is their sole companion, and consequently, losing them could lead to feelings of acute loneliness and isolation. The important message is not to feel ashamed of being sad, even if some people around you don’t really understand.

Talk to family and friends about how you’re feeling. Share memories about your pet. Look at photographs. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, or you don’t wish to for fear of leaning on family members who may also be grieving themselves, contact Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service. They offer free and confidential support on 0800 096 6606 between 8.30am and 8.30pm, or you can email them on

Don’t suffer alone, and don’t feel as though your emotions aren’t valid. They absolutely are.

Issy McCann, April 2023