BUSINESSES and animal specialists are waking up to the bond owners share with their pets.
Gatehouse Vet Centre in Wrexham and Chester announced support is available for owners struggling to cope after their animal dies.
Denis Callanan, practice owner and vet, said: “As a nation of animal lovers we British have perhaps been slow to acknowledge the grief we can also feel over an animal.
“Up to 30 per cent of owners struggle with their grief, with some needing time off work. So we are delighted to be among the first practices in the country to offer free The Loss of Your Pet support packs to our clients.”
Most people will understand people crying if a grandmother dies, but non pet-owners may not have the same level of understanding when the subject of the grief is a dog or a cat.
Mr Callanan said: “Although almost half of UK households keep pets, much of society still does not recognise the distress many owners suffer when their animals die.
“Although grief is a normal response by which we adapt to the loss, showing grief for an animal is not a societal norm.”
Some may react more profoundly than others, Mr Callanan said.
“It is harder when the loss has opened older wounds, for example, a human death,” he said.
“Then, the person’s grief may seem out of proportion and others may trivialise it, saying things like ‘It was only a cat’.
“Fear of that reaction causes some people to suffer ill-health and become socially isolated.”
Gatehouse may be among the first vets to offer dedicated support – in the form of leaflets and a CD – but Jason Ward, director of Pet Funeral Services in Holywell, has been delicately addressing this need for a decade.
With a pet cemetery and full animal funeral services, Jason has comforted owners who have lost anything from a hamster to a horse.
He said: “If you consider the role pets play in some people’s lives, it’s not that far-fetched.
“The relationship becomes similar to that between a parent and a child.
“You care for the animal, they are dependent on you and you begin to see a personality develop. You share your life with them.
“Losing them is not something we are socially equipped for.”
Jason himself has an understanding of this.
He has always had a dog and one particular loss sticks in his mind.
He said: “I had Buster, a golden retriever. When I first got him, I was in a relationship.
“We broke up and I got custody of the dog. Since then, I’ve had a few other relationships, then met my wife and settled down.
“When Buster was so ill, I called for the vet and he was put down.
“I lay down next to him and cried. His loss had stirred up old feelings. I ended up thinking about my old girlfriend, who hadn’t crossed my mind in eight years, and all the things that had happened since, that Buster and I had lived through.
“I can cope with loss pretty well, but others may not.
“I’d always offer someone a chat over a cup of tea if they wanted to talk about it – that’s not something we’d charge for.
“And if someone really isn’t coping, I can signpost them to people who are trained to deal with grief.”
Jason said members of the public have employed his undertaking services for a variety of animals, but cats and dogs are the most common.
He said: “The funeral provides a sort of psychological function for owners.
“We get some families coming in with small animals because while, as an adult, you reconcile yourself to the fact a hamster will live three or four years at the most, a child won’t see it that way.
“A year is a lifetime to them. We’ve even had enquiries about cremations for fish.
“We have about 25,000 families on our database. Whether it’s a family saying goodbye to a small pet or someone who has kept a tortoise which has lived to 100, there’s no clear demographic. "