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Death of a companion animal: Understanding human responses to bereavement

Davis, H. (2011) Death of a companion animal: Understanding human responses to bereavement. In: Blazina, Christopher, Boyra, Guler and Shen-Miller, David, (eds.) The Psychology of the Human-Animal Bond: A Resource for Clinicians and Researchers. Springer, pp. 225-242.


The best test of any relationship’s significance in a person’s life is. Perhaps, what happens when it comes to an end. Although losing a pet has been likened to losing a valued possession or occupation (e.g., Parkes, 1971), current evidence suggests that an owner’s response to pet death usually has more in common with bereavement following the death of a beloved human than with the loss of a possession (Archer & Winchester, 1994). Grief is a normal response to the death of a beloved other and has been characterised as progressing through a series of stages or phases from initial shock, numbness, and denial, occurring even when the death is expected, to a range of intense emotional reactions that may include anger and guilt, to depression and helplessness, where a person may become withdrawn, to a stage of dialogue and bargaining, where the bereaved person may begin to reach out to others, want to tell their story, and struggle to find meaning in what happened. The final stage involves acceptance of the loss and moving on (Kühler-Ross, 1969). The nature of response to pet death seems to follow this pattern, though being on average less extremely distressing and less prolonged (Archer & Winchester, 1994; Gerwolls & Lahott, 1994). People vary considerably in how they manifest their grief. Nevertheless, some bereaved persons may find their response severely debilitating and protracted and may even become suicidal (Archer & Winchester, 1994). This is termed complicated or pathological grief (Williams & Mills, 2000).

Item Type: Book Chapter
Publisher: Springer
Copyright: Springer
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