Grief of losing a dog at Saskatoon kennel could mirror grief of losing a child: expert

The loss of a pet can mirror the loss of child for a family, according to Erin Wasson, a social worker with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Loved ones should offer support to those coping with the death of a pet

Ardie was an autism service dog for six-year-old Easton Irwin. Ardie was one of 14 dogs that died at Playful Paws. (Submitted by Brandon Irwin)

Many Saskatoon families are grieving the loss of 14 dogs after a heater malfunctioned at a local kennel and pet daycare.

The loss of a pet can be similar to the loss of child for a family, according to Erin Wasson, a social worker with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Generally speaking, if you were to measure the grief scores of an individual who has lost a child and someone who has lost pet, they will mirror each other," said Wasson.

"The intensity of the grief can be considered that deep."

Kelsey Friesen says that her daughter's dog (left) died while in the care of a Saskatoon kennel. (Submitted by Kelsey Friesen)

This weekend, a heating unit at the Playful Paws Pet Centre pushed heat into one of the facility's upstairs kennel rooms. It got so hot that dogs being kept there died overnight.

The Saskatoon SPCA is investigating the incident. 

Wasson suggests that people dealing with the loss of a pet should seek social support from friends and family who understand the importance the animal had in their life.

"Whenever there is a traumatic lost, there is a huge sense of shock and emptiness often and then followed by ground swell of emotion," said Wasson.
Erin Wasson, a social worker with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine , with her horse. (Keane Plamondon/Submitted to CBC)

"In a circumstance like this, there is communal grief going on because Saskatoon is a tight-knit community and we love our animals here."

She said people may also experience secondary losses like no longer doing an activity they would do with their pet that connected them to a community group.

Dealing with grief

The death of a pet will continue to impact people in the years to come.

"One of the things I tell people that I'm working with who are managing grief is that grief isn't something we get over. We become bereaved and learn how to live along side it," said Wasson.

She said if friends and family are trying to help their loved ones deal with the loss of a pet they need to understand their perspective.

"If you know your friend, neighbour, loved one experiencing deep grief or a sense of loss then attend to that rather than to convince them of something else," said Wasson.

People should stay away from saying, 'It's just a dog or it's just a cat.' According to Wasson, these statements are not helpful and can disenfranchise grief.

Wasson says the best thing you can do for someone coping with the death of a pet is to ask what you can do for them.

With files from CBC's The Afternoon Edition


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