The death of a pet induces responses qualitatively similar to the loss of a beloved human. A large number of pet owners consider their pets as family members. Given the important role that domestic animals may have in our lives it is not surprising that the experience of pet loss might be emotionally painful for many people. Several studies report that owners with a close relationship to their animals are at greater risk for an extreme grief response. There is growing attention in pet loss literature about the function of a ”continuing bond” in relation to coping and adaptation following the death. Despite death, a majority of owners maintain ongoing, meaningful ties with their pet. Believing in an afterlife for one’s animal has been reported as a helpful factor in coping with loss. While there is much written to help pet owners deal with grief after death, there is very little information available to help them prepare emotionally to euthanasia. Clinical experience has shown that euthanasia can, potentially, complicate and exacerbate negative feelings associated with grief. ”Choice” is the key word that characterizes the modern paradigm of companion animal euthanasia and L. Longoni points out the importance of helping pet owners make informed and conscious choices. The aim of this exploratory study is to investigate the role of pet-euthanasia related issues and of death representation on pet bereavement distress with the purpose of understanding how to help owners better cope with loss. Voluntary participants (n=159) completed a general information form, the LAPS Lexington Attachments to Pets Scale assessing individuals attachment to their pets, the PBQ Pet Bereavement Questionnaire measuring pet bereavement distress, the Testoni Death Representation Scale assessing death representation and the Beck Depression Inventory-II. Data were analyzed with non-parametrical methods. Results indicate the importance of pre-euthanasia communication. In fact greater anger and guilt were found in owners who were not provided with clear and exhaustive informations on diagnosis and treatment options and who were not involved by the veterinarian on death/life decisions; greater anger was found in owners whose veterinarian didn’t give them the proper time to think over decisions to be taken. We found greater grief in relation to euthanasia compared to natural death but, contrary to our expectations, we found no differences in anger and guilt. However, analyzing more in depth circumstances related to euthanasia, we found that timing might be important to take into account: greater guilt was found in owners who thought that euthanasia was performed ahead of time compared to those that thought they had chosen the right time. Concerning death representation, 54,2% of our sample believes in afterlife also for pets. Interestingly, this owners have greater attachment and higher scores in death as transition. This means that they believe not only that their pet will continue to exist but also that it will be able to remember the past life shared with the owner. Being able to keep memory of past life implies the possibility of maintaining the bond despite physical death. These findings support the theory of continuing bonds in pet loss. Although further investigation is needed, overall our results suggest that psychologist may play an important role in pet loss. Psychologists, well informed about human-animal interactions and pet-euthanasia medical and emotional issues, can become a valued link between veterinarians and pet owners. Pet loss counseling can help owners to make conscious choices, to prepare for the death of their pet and can help them through grief afterwards. Assistance and support of both during anticipatory and post-death grief, may help mitigate potentially negative effects of pet loss as anger and guilt.

Pet grief support. a research on grief between representation of death and euthanasia

RONCONI, LUCIA;TESTONI, INES
2014

Abstract

The death of a pet induces responses qualitatively similar to the loss of a beloved human. A large number of pet owners consider their pets as family members. Given the important role that domestic animals may have in our lives it is not surprising that the experience of pet loss might be emotionally painful for many people. Several studies report that owners with a close relationship to their animals are at greater risk for an extreme grief response. There is growing attention in pet loss literature about the function of a ”continuing bond” in relation to coping and adaptation following the death. Despite death, a majority of owners maintain ongoing, meaningful ties with their pet. Believing in an afterlife for one’s animal has been reported as a helpful factor in coping with loss. While there is much written to help pet owners deal with grief after death, there is very little information available to help them prepare emotionally to euthanasia. Clinical experience has shown that euthanasia can, potentially, complicate and exacerbate negative feelings associated with grief. ”Choice” is the key word that characterizes the modern paradigm of companion animal euthanasia and L. Longoni points out the importance of helping pet owners make informed and conscious choices. The aim of this exploratory study is to investigate the role of pet-euthanasia related issues and of death representation on pet bereavement distress with the purpose of understanding how to help owners better cope with loss. Voluntary participants (n=159) completed a general information form, the LAPS Lexington Attachments to Pets Scale assessing individuals attachment to their pets, the PBQ Pet Bereavement Questionnaire measuring pet bereavement distress, the Testoni Death Representation Scale assessing death representation and the Beck Depression Inventory-II. Data were analyzed with non-parametrical methods. Results indicate the importance of pre-euthanasia communication. In fact greater anger and guilt were found in owners who were not provided with clear and exhaustive informations on diagnosis and treatment options and who were not involved by the veterinarian on death/life decisions; greater anger was found in owners whose veterinarian didn’t give them the proper time to think over decisions to be taken. We found greater grief in relation to euthanasia compared to natural death but, contrary to our expectations, we found no differences in anger and guilt. However, analyzing more in depth circumstances related to euthanasia, we found that timing might be important to take into account: greater guilt was found in owners who thought that euthanasia was performed ahead of time compared to those that thought they had chosen the right time. Concerning death representation, 54,2% of our sample believes in afterlife also for pets. Interestingly, this owners have greater attachment and higher scores in death as transition. This means that they believe not only that their pet will continue to exist but also that it will be able to remember the past life shared with the owner. Being able to keep memory of past life implies the possibility of maintaining the bond despite physical death. These findings support the theory of continuing bonds in pet loss. Although further investigation is needed, overall our results suggest that psychologist may play an important role in pet loss. Psychologists, well informed about human-animal interactions and pet-euthanasia medical and emotional issues, can become a valued link between veterinarians and pet owners. Pet loss counseling can help owners to make conscious choices, to prepare for the death of their pet and can help them through grief afterwards. Assistance and support of both during anticipatory and post-death grief, may help mitigate potentially negative effects of pet loss as anger and guilt.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11577/2980302
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