I’m delighted to share this guest article by author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson written for BEJournal.  

Masson is the author of many bestselling books on animal emotions. His latest book, Lost Companions: Reflections on the Death of Pets (Murdoch Books RRP $29.99) released this month, confronts an emotive subject with empathy. A compassionate guide for navigating the sudden loss of an animal companion.

It is possible that no human can make us as happy as a dog or cat or really any other animal companion to whom we give our heart and whom we have made part of our human family. That is because they ask nothing for us in return for their love, except that we love them back. And this love they so freely give us is critical to our mental and even physical health. Walking or jogging with a dog is one of the great pleasures of life. It keeps us healthy. Seeing the joy they take in everyday activities reminds us of the beauty in the ordinary. For a dog there is no such thing as a boring walk.

Walking or jogging with a dog is one of the great pleasures of life. Photo © LeoPatrizi / iStock

The steady purr of a cat in your bed at night is more calming than any medication. Surely it is one of the greatest pleasures in life, to share your bed with a cat. There is no greater sign of complete trust. After all, they evolved from a solitary creature, and yet they have such confidence in us that they fall asleep next to us at night. 

I have been a psychoanalyst, but I have never known a therapist as good as a dog. Freud never saw anyone without his beloved dog present. This was, I believe, the secret of his therapeutic success: Not interpretations, but the peaceful puppy lying next to the couch.

People who have shared their lives with animals already know all of this. But it is especially significant when we are living in isolation. A person alone with her cat or dog or bird or rabbit is not really alone. But what happens when that animal being dies during this time? How do we mourn in isolation?

Well, my wife and I are isolating right now in Sydney Australia. But we miss our friends. So we have a virtual dinner with a different couple every week. It is amazing how intimate these dinners can be without the constraints of “ordinary time.” If I lost my animal companion, I would share my grief with my friends at this time: online, on Skype, on FaceTime, over the phone. I would talk about it. I would even have a virtual funeral and I would expect my friends to talk about whatever they remember of my animal, and I would do the same. They will not die if they live on in our memory, and they all do.

Lost Companions has a universal appeal for pet owners and animal lovers, an elegy to animal kinship acknowledging the power of pets to buoy our spirits and leave a lasting impression on our lives. It is a beautiful book that can help people grieve the passing and celebrate the companionship of a lost pet.