Think before you speak

Losing a loved one is universally known as a hard thing to go through. Losing a person close to you, like a friend or family member, causes people around you to express their condolences and give you some slack to pull yourself together. However, when it comes to the loss of a furry family member like a dog or cat, the response of those around you tends to vary.

I have experienced the loss of one of my dear, furry friends this semester and I asked myself why the response to the loss of a pet varies so much. The expected response to the loss of a person close to you is limited and there is often only a small range of kind things to say.

When it comes to the loss of a pet, the reaction can be anything from kindness to rude comments about how it shouldn’t be sad to lose a pet. This is something I’ve experienced in the past and pondered for some time but the recent loss of my childhood pet, Katie, brought this question back to my attention.

Why is it that people find it okay to not show the same kindness they would for the loss of a human loved one, and why is it that their opinion of the type of animal in question affects their response so heavily?

In the case of my grandfather passing two years ago, I never once heard someone say to me something like, “I hated my grandfather, I wasn’t sad when he passed at all; I’m sure you’ll be fine,” or, “It’s just your uncle, it’s not like it was your parent or anything, it’s not that bad of a loss.” When it comes to the loss of a pet, a sentence like, “I hated cats growing up, I was so glad when my cat passed; I’m sure you’ll get over your cats passing alright,” is common and isn’t that comforting to most.

Animal lovers like me find themselves in a position of having to defend their reasons why the loss is upsetting at all. The phrase “It’s just a dog; at least it’s not a person,” is used by some to almost try and console the person who is grieving. Personally, as an animal lover and a biologist, I acknowledge that the loss of a pet is in many ways less significant than that of the loss of a human life. But does that fact give others the green light to say that it was “only a dog,” as if they are discounting the right to be upset by the loss experienced?

A loss is a loss and no one is to say how much or little is to be felt. I believe the root of the problem is empathy. Empathy is an emotion but it can also be a learned skill. Not everyone is a cat lover and not everyone is a dog fan, but losing a companion is cause for sadness.

If people could learn to put themselves in the other’s shoes for a moment and try to understand the why behind the emotion, there would be less hurt feelings. This idea can be applied to every aspect of connecting with others.

If the kneejerk reaction was to try and understand and feel what the other is feeling instead of judging them, there would be fewer problems in the world. Just because you hated your uncle, his cat and his dog doesn’t mean that to another person their uncle isn’t their whole world. Before you speak, think kindness first – think empathy.