Part of every life is death. And unfortunately the lifespans of our animal companions are much shorter than our own. This means we all usually have to say goodbye to a beloved pet at some point during our lives.
As a vet I’m privy to these farewells more often than the average person. Last week I had to put down Buddy—a sweet old yellow lab dying of heart failure. His owner, Roger, a man in his forties, decided that it was time for Buddy to finally rest.
After Buddy took his last breath, I placed my stethoscope on his chest. His heart had stopped and I informed Roger that he’d peacefully passed away.
Roger’s eyes were blood shot and glassed over, his face reddened. He blinked the tears away. “I-I don’t know why I’m so upset. Sure, I was just at an aunt’s funeral there last week and I didn’t cry then!” He ran a hand down his face and patted Buddy’s old wrinkled forehead one last time. “Such a good dog—not a mean bone in his body.”
Why do we become so emotionally attached to our pets? Sometimes an even stronger bond is formed between an animal and their human than we would experience with our own family members and friends of the same species.
Our relationships with our pets are so different from that of any relationship we have with our fellow human beings. No matter how much we love our family and friends, we all have disagreements and fights, small grudges and complicated feelings attached to the humans in our lives. Maybe your best friend is a little critical of your taste in movies and books, so you avoid those topics with them. Or your sibling tends to be jealous of your accomplishments so you shy away from conversations with them about yourself.
Our human relationships are extremely complex. There are always unseen barriers we create when around other people.
Our animal companions though? No barriers, no grudges, no major debates or arguments. And our emotional bond is only bolstered by our lack of inhibition to physically connect with our pets. We communicate affection via petting and belly rubs, which has been proven to release endorphin and feel-good hormones for both species.
But I think the reason for such a unique bond lies within our pet’s motives and was realized by Roger when he said, “-not a mean bone in his [Buddy’s] body.”
Buddy didn’t have hidden agendas, criticize, or expect anything from Roger apart from companionship and dinner. Buddy never felt frustration or anger towards Roger, and if he did it was immediately and forever forgotten after a pat on the head. Buddy just wanted to be with Roger every spare moment of the day. He saw him in his pajamas with morning breath and greasy hair, and Buddy amiably sat beside Roger while Roger indulged in cheesy action movies and video games—never passing judgment, just thrilled to be in Roger’s presence.
We can let everything hang out and be ourselves around our pets. And they couldn’t care less what we look like or what we do, as long as they get to be with us. How could we not fall in love with the harbinger of that kind of adoration day in and day out?
It’s no wonder that we grieve for our deceased pets—they love us unconditionally and bring joy to our lives every moment they can.
Have you lost an animal companion? Why do you think it’s so difficult to say goodbye? Please share your thoughts, photos, and comments with us.
(Names in this post were changed to respect the privacy of clients and patients.)