Most people think about the loss of a pet only in terms concerning its death. But there is another kind of loss that we should all be made aware of because it can happen to nearly any one of us. This other horrible experience is bereavement for a pet resulting from its disappearance. One hears of all sorts of shocked and grieving owners who are advertising desperately for the return of their beloved companion animals. Sometimes very large rewards are offered, even by poor families, to hope- fully bring that cherished pet back. This is especially heartbreaking, especially because sometimes it could have actually been prevented. And the guilt involved, merited or not, is like none other. We tend to take our pet’s security for granted, and the grief is terrible when that pet is suddenly gone.
Many pet owners find it necessary to seek bereavement counseling when their animals disappear. Some of these pets probably strayed away and confronted the perils of traffic, predators, vicious dogs, or any number of things. Their owners are in all stages of grief and mourning, despite the fact that there was no direct indication of death. Many are actually even worse off than those whose pets are recently deceased. These people are in a unique category of bereavement because they can still cling to a golden spark of hope that their beloved animals are still alive and may yet return home. But they know that the probability drops to near zero as time passes. Sadly, they may never be able to learn if their pet is dead. If
they at least knew that, then some of the terrible fear would be over. That knowledge would ease the frightful angst. Now, however, the awful grip of uncertainty, guilt, and suspense dominates every waking moment—and even their dreams.
WHEN A PET DISAPPEARS
There are so many ways a pet can disappear. This usually happens in a flash, when we drop our vigilance for just a brief moment. And that is all it takes. A bird, even with clipped flight feathers, may flutter out a just-opened door or a window opened only a crack. There is no such thing as having been only a little careless when a pet disappears. It is a matter of all or nothing. Dogs and cats run out of the house, stray, and become lost. If they are lucky, they become members of feral groups, living on garbage and anything else they can find to eat. Or they can be picked up by people who then keep them as their new pets. But there are dangers such as vicious feral animals and wild ones of all kinds that are natural predators in some parts of the country. And there are contemptible humans who delight in trying to drive over any animal they see alone on the road. Many unidentified strays are captured by animal-control officers and sent off and are eventually euthanized. And then there are the professional suppliers to the experimental labs. These are despicable human predators who are always on the prowl for any dog or cat they can
find. They are very accomplished at capturing these unwitting pets.
Actually, it is worse than a jungle out there!
Pets are frequently stolen out of yards and cars, and for just a few dollars, they are sold for experiments and testing—with no questions asked. None ever survive the ordeal. There is no animal more contemptible than an evil human. What is actually happening to the poor pets? The unrelenting guilt and grief that owners of missing pets go through as they try to endure this unresolvable experience is like no other kind of bereavement.
When a pet disappears, some of the stages of bereavement are intensified and distorted. And they are always underscored by uncertainty and an overwhelming sense of failed responsibility. Unfortunately, there can be no real finish for this unique grief. Closure or resolution could come with either the return of the pet or certain knowledge of its death. But that rarely ever happens. The initial stage of shock is even slightly different. There still may be some hope, however dim it is.
Usually, there is no disbelief because of the circumstances. And here the guilt is often justified. Almost all of the anger is directed at oneself for being so negligent.
Learning how to cope with that is so hard! In the case of known petnapping, anger is also directed at the thief and others in general who would deliberately do this to your pet. This kind of loss becomes a terrible exercise in rage, dire frustration, and emotional catastrophe. Anger turned inward quickly turns into guilt. It is loaded with passionate fantasies
of “should have,” “could have,” and “if only.” But it is too late. That is when a variation of the denial stage kicks into gear and fantasy becomes fervent hope. We offer up all sorts of prayers to try to bargain or plead with God for the safe return of the pet. This phase can be even more painful for an owner when the pet disappears than for one whose pet dies. But sometimes we are very lucky: On rare occasions, lost pets are returned, and strays come home.
SOME LOSSES ARE PREVENTABLE
There are so many ways a beloved pet can be taken from us that it is important to consider them. Hopefully, we can do something about this before they have the opportunity to happen. Most often, this kind of loss is preventable, as contrasted with death, which is inevitable. There is a very important lesson here, and it can decrease the probability of this type of loss: Constant watchfulness and vigilance are required in the loving care of our pets. That is only a part of the commitment we make as stewards.
Cats can be very efficient at escaping or getting lost. And everyone hears about their climbing up trees and then becoming too fearful to come down.
Sometimes local fire departments will not come to the rescue because they are too busy at the moment with higher-priority calls. Because of this kind of situation, cats eventually climb down, despite their fright, and then get lost. That usually happens after many hours, and most owners can’t just wait there. They mistakenly expected their cats to eventually come down on their own and then return home. But of course, so much can happen at a time like this. Cats often get lost in other ways as well. There are so many cases of when they escaped out of a momentarily opened door or disappeared out a partially opened window. And others managed to get out in ways the owners could not figure out.
Dogs are frequently reported missing because of other careless conditions or practices that their owners engaged in, and most of these losses arose from preventable circumstances. Perhaps the most common one is when dogs are allowed to freely roam their neighborhood. Their owners have many different, inexcusable justifications for having permitted this, until it is too late. It is especially heartbreaking when beloved pets disappear and are never seen again. Was it because of thieves who routinely sell them to labs or strangers taking them in as their new pets? Or was there some kind of terrible accident? Most of these bereaved pet owners will never know, and they will have to live with this grim uncertainty for the rest of their lives.
The same missing-pet complaint also arises from situations when dogs are
briefly tied up outside stores while their owners are inside shopping. Again, the excuses and justifications are easy to come by, but the pet is gone.
There are several
possibilities here, and they are all dire—and they don’t really matter. Now it’s too late to defend against this! Sadly, there are many recorded instances of concerned people who tried to warn the owners. But they were told to mind their own business. That is another tragic irony.
Stealing a dog or cat from a yard or a car is the most common type of petnapping. No one ever thinks that such a thing will happen, but it does, and it can be prevented so easily. Of course, this does not mean that one should confine the dog in a car with the windows shut to prevent criminal opening of the locks. Too many deaths from heat prostration happen every year because of that. A pet left in a car in the sun can die in as little as twelve minutes, or it may be left with permanent brain damage in much less time. Although it may seem inconvenient, the owner must deal with the possibilities, and work this problem out before the danger or
possible theft has a chance to happen.
Unfortunately, the professional petnapper is very adept at luring and baiting most animals in all kinds of situations. Don’t rely on your pet’s being too smart or protective to be fooled. Some go willingly after being offered a tasty tidbit. Accomplished dognappers often use a captive bitch in heat to easily lure male dogs away.
Even the best-trained dogs are taken this way.
Sometimes, people are forced to give up their companion animals because landlords and other housing authorities do not allow pets. Tenants who do not know this or who disregard that clause in their leases are almost always required to finally give up their beloved pets.
It is important to be enlightened that there are federal laws that prevent this, if it can be demonstrated that the pet is important to the emotional health and welfare of the tenant. Landlords know about this and will not challenge it in court, as they always lose.
There are also heartbreaking cases when people lose their companion animals while away on a trip, and they can only stay for a limited time to search for them. The resulting grief immediately changes their lives, and the emotional scars can last forever. These are also some very commonplace occurrences that too often could have been avoided by some careful advance planning.