The Psychology of the Human-Animal Bond

pp 225-242


Death of a Companion Animal: Understanding Human Responses to Bereavement

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Research into people’s response to the death of a companion animal demonstrates considerable variability among individuals, ranging from minimal reaction to extreme and protracted distress, and that pet owners themselves may be surprised at their own reaction. Two questions arise from this. First, how can we best predict who is likely to suffer extreme distress at the loss of a pet? Second, what would be helpful to people suffering extreme distress? In this chapter, some of the factors predictive of distress, including owner characteristics, pet characteristics and situational factors are examined. Factors and methods of coping that bereaved pet owners report to be helpful at this time are also discussed. It is argued that understanding both the phenomenon of grief and the variability in response requires a more theoretical approach than is typically taken in empirical investigations. It is proposed that Fiske’s (1992, Psychological Review, 99(4), 689–723) theory of social models, intended to categorise human social relationships into four elementary kinds (communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching and market pricing), is also applicable to understanding human–animal relationships. It is argued that this theoretical framework helps to explain a range of empirical observations from the literature on bereavement and suggests further topics for investigation.