Judith Murray, a grief and mental health researcher with the University of Queensland’s school of psychology, says that for many people, the experience of losing a pet can be “as intense as losing any kind of loved one or relative”.”And for some people, [it can be] more intense because sometimes they’ve actually developed more of a relationship [to the animal] than they have with other human beings, particularly if they’re isolated, lonely, elderly, children who’ve been abused,” she says. Tough days at work. Escaping a violent partner. Mental health breakdowns. It doesn’t matter how bad things get, dogs are there by our side. How your dogs got you through the hard times
If this grief is not heard, the person experiencing it “can feel so much worse,” she says: “They feel bad because the world around them tells them they shouldn’t feel like that. And that makes it worse because they try to pretend it’s not there or they become isolated.”Associate Professor Murray says feelings of grief after the loss of an animal are sometimes dismissed as people tend to “rate” the grief of others.”But you can’t rate someone’s grief,” she explains. “For example, if someone has a miscarriage or has an abortion or something like that, that is not given the same distress as, say, someone who has a stillbirth. Yet, for the person, if they’ve had fertility treatments, this can be absolutely as massive.”And so, people who don’t necessarily have that very intense attachment to animals don’t see it as important.”So, how can we help those around us going through the loss of a pet? Associate Professor Murray says the answer lies in listening — rather than trying to “talk grief away”.  With days to go until Australia Day, owner Harry Verveniotis is urging people with pets to make sure their animals are their main priority — as he holds out hope for his dog Lucia’s return.