Although land tortoises can live over 150 years and parrots sometimes live as long as people, most pets have short life spans Perhaps the Lord gave our pets short life spans to keep us from getting more attached to them than to our fellow human beings. Since the love of some intelligent pets for their human masters is remarkably unconditional, they often establish a deep emotional connection with us. In fact, we sometimes find it easier to love them unconditionally than each other.
The emotional impact of the death of a family’s pet is like the loss of any family member, though on a lesser scale. It offers opportunities for learning important lessons in preparation for future losses that will be worse. The grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.
You shouldn’t feel guilty that you are grieving. We might be saddened or distressed when we break a valuable heirloom or lose a valuable antique in a fire. But grief at the death of a pet dog is—and should be—deeper. A dog may not be “worth” nearly as much in dollars as an antique, but the real value of your dog is not monetary. Dogs aren’t things; they’re companions. They’re not man-made objects, but masterpieces of the Creator, conscious beings with souls.
1 Although they aren’t created in God’s image like human beings, higher animals share many remarkable qualities in common with us. They exhibit emotions like joy, loyalty, affection, and courage. They also teach us much how to live fully in the present moment and enjoy the beautiful world that God has made.
Grief for a pet dog is real because the relationship between master and dog is real. God established the relationship between human beings and His other creatures (Genesis 2:19-20; Psalm 8:4-8). There are ways in which a pet dog in its innocence can be our “best friend,” touchingly responsive to our moods and emotions.
The emotional impact a family dog’s death is similar to the loss of any family member, although on a lesser scale. It should be taken seriously, because it offers opportunities for learning important lessons and preparing for future losses that will be worse.
We often find it easier to love our pets unconditionally than it is to love each other. If our sense of loss at the death of a pet is more severe than the sense of loss of human friends and relatives who have died, we should consider why. Even in a world cursed with sin, we should miss human relationships more than relationships with pets. In this sense, the grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.
Because the loss is real, it is not healthy to suppress and deny your grief.2 Openly express your grief when alone or in the presence of others who understand. Realize that grief at the death of an animal that has shared your life experiences for years will be painful, and any attempt to deny it will have negative consequences.
Don’t try to forget the relationship that you had with your dog any more than you would try to forget the relationship with a human loved one who has died. We gain some sense of God’s immense sadness at the suffering and evil in the world when we realize that the Bible offers no indication that we will ever be reunited with the animals that mean so much to us in this world.
- The Hebrew word nephesh implies conscious life as distinguished from plants, which have unconscious life. In the sense of conscious life, an animal also has a soul. The word creature in Genesis 1:24 is from the Hebrew word nephesh. This word could be defined as a “breathing creature or animal” and designates the life principle in man and animals. Back To Article
- Although grief at an animal’s death is not unhealthy, some expressions of grief can be. Some people spend exorbitant amounts of money on pet memorials, or even have their pet’s body mounted by a taxidermist. These are reactions that show either that the animal is being valued more highly than people, or that it is being objectified in a way that overlooks the reasons we were attached to it in the first place. Back To Article