photoBy Jarrad Freeman

People form very deep emotional bonds with their pets, and in many cases they view their pets as no less important than their children. Such is no secret to anyone who has had a dog or a cat share their house and their lives, thus becoming an integral and essential part of the family. After all, pets are warm, loving and accepting. “Animals are such agreeable friends―they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms,” says George Eliot, the 19th century British author, in Scenes of Clerical Life.

Many today would agree with this sentiment. As they would with the following thought. The most difficult part of any relationship, whether it is between humans or between humans and a family pet, is saying good-bye. This is often a day filled with tears, filled with sadness and a deep and profound feeling of loss.

And understandably so. Saying good-bye to a living sentient being is never easy, especially if the relationship has been a good, loving and long-lasting one; pets are for many individuals and their families an important—call it an essential—familiar, soft furry member who provides not only companionship but also unconditional love and happiness.

An article (“It’s Hard to Send a Pet to Heaven”), by Marc Silver, in National Geographic gives a wonderful first-person account of the difficulty that people face when they have to “put down their pet. “In the article, Silver writes about Rosie, their cat who lived with the family for 20 years:

“Over time, she became such a part of our family life that she was just Rosie Silver, our cat, with her own style and her own Facebook page. She was a devoted friend to our two daughters, even when they stretched her out like she was on a rack. She was also part of our family crises, like the time she got into a fight with some animal outside that resulted in a puncture wound just when Marsha was undergoing breast-cancer treatment.”

“And how hard it is to say goodbye, even when you know it’s time.”

“So long, Rosie. You were a cool cat, and our house is empty without you. And I know this sounds hokey, but my heart is a bit emptier too.”

Many people have had similar experiences, and such an emotional response captures the sentiments of millions of pet owners around the world. Humans have a need to mourn loss; it’s a natural and necessary process to recovery. It’s not only OK to cry; it’s good and healthy for you; it’s not only OK to feel sadness; it’s good and human for you. That people need to go through a grieving process when they lose their pets is being better understood today. It’s especially hard on children, but adults, too. “The loss of a beloved pet is no less traumatic than the loss of a loved close human being,” says Alan Bright, a grief counselor and one of the principals of Farewell Products, a Canadian company that manufactures pet funeral kits. “It is important to recognize the loss and work through the grieving process.”

In addition, the loss of a beloved pet is probably a child’s first experience with the passing of a loved one, and, as Bright explains, “We feel it is very important that children be a significant part of the service and participate in all the steps during this difficult time.”

Its chief purpose is to give the family pet not only a dignified burial, but also a funeral service that is befitting a loving member of the family. This is particularly important for young children, who require a simple and understandable way to both grieve and to remember their beloved pets. “Funerals for a pet help define closure and acceptance of the loss,” Bright says. “Physical participation in saying goodbye helps us come to terms with the loss, thus giving us the ability to move forward.”

This helps explain why pet funerals, which includes a burial casket that can be personalized and decorated and which includes a memorial service, are becoming more common. So much so that 41% of dog owners and 30% of cat owners indicated that they would buy something to memorialize a pet—most commonly a memorial stone or urn, says the American Pet Products Association, Greenwich, CT, in its 2011-12 survey of pet owners. In the United States, pet owners spent $55.72 billion in 2013 on their pets, a figure that is expected to increase to $58.51 billion in 2014.

There are 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats in the U.S., says the Humane Society of the U.S. in its 2012 annual report. In total, the U.S. has 164 million pet owners. “In other words, in 2012, 62 percent of American households included at least one pet,” the American Humane Society says in the same report. The numbers are similar in other industrialized nations, reports Euromonitor, a market-research firm, including in Canada (5.1 million dogs; 8.6 million cats), in Great Britain (8.8 million dogs; 8.9 million cats), in France (7.3 million dogs; 11.3 million cats), and in Germany (5.4 million dogs; 8.4 million cats).

Closure is the essential reason for any memorial service, which helps to focus on the relationship between the family and its pet, Bright says. “We wish families to retain the many wonderful memories of the many happy days they spent with their beloved pets.” FBA

Jarrad Freeman is Sales and Marketing Manager of Farewell Products, Inc. He was approached by an associate to run and help develop a new product in the pet industry, “Farewell Pet Kits” Despite his already full-plate, his passion for the product was so strong that he couldn’t refuse the new opportunity. He is now running two successful companies simultaneously. Jarrad can be reached by phone at 514-731-7661 or by email at [email protected].