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Companion Animals as a Living Witness; Another Reason the Loss Hurts so Deeply

In both my personal and professional life, it still amazes me how many people do not understand the emotional, psychological and spiritual significance of the human-animal bond and continue to trivialize the impact companion animal loss. How many times have you heard the comments; “it's just a dog/cat, "just get another one", “why are you not ‘over’ it yet”, or “you know pets don’t live as long as people do” in response to your grief? I know I have heard these insensitive and disenfranchising comments more times than I can count and it inspires me to continue to raise awareness and sensitivity to the topic of the human-animal bond and companion animal loss!

In a recent training, I was discussing the idea of our companion animals functioning in the same capacity as the "good-enough mother", providing a holding environment to allow us to safely and comfortably be who we are without fear of judgement or rejection. Our companion animals being so much more than "pets”, bear witness to ourselves and our lives in ways others may not. When our companion animals die, we must say good-bye to many different relationships contained in one small and beautiful package. Of the many aspects of the bond we share, one of the things we say good-bye to is the presence of a "Living Witness" to our most personal lives and authentic selves. Not only do our companion animals give us their uninhibited and most natural emotional expressions and reactions, but they also allow us the space and security to express parts of ourselves in ways we may otherwise not. The death of a companion animal can mean the loss of this "Living Witness" which provides unconditional positive regard to our weaknesses, fragilities, vulnerabilities and failures as well as our unique gifts, strengths, victories and successes. If we are fortunate, they accompany us through the years of our life without judgement or remorse and define an era that will forever remain sacred and unique. It is never "just" a dog or "just " a cat etc. but so much more and knowing this helps us to understand why the death of a companion animal can hurt so deeply. "And I Love You Still...", J. Corbin, Ph.D., 2019

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