Grieving an ‘unusual’ pet: Finding support when some people don’t understand your loss

Have you come to this site because you’re grieving what others might refer to as an ‘unusual’ or ‘exotic’ pet such as a snake, lizard, tortoise or tarantula as just a few examples?

You might feel that no-one understands your pain and the loss you have experienced.

Animals come in all shapes and sizes, just like the humans who care for them. Regardless of their species, when they die, any animal can leave a huge hole and a tremendous amount of grief.

We want you to know that we’re here for you. The pet loss advice throughout the site applies to any animal and their humans.

We are truly sorry for your loss.

Caring for an ‘unconventional’ pet

When researching this blog, we read through forums for people who are passionate about caring for reptiles, fish, spiders and many other animals. One of the most striking things was that there were so many posts from people saying, “I’m scared you’re going to laugh at me but I’m in so much pain after losing my snake (for example) and no-one seems to understand”.

It seems that exotic pet carers can feel even more invisible and disenfranchised in their grief than people who lose more ‘conventional’ pets such as dogs or cats.

But the pain is just as real and valid.

On one forum, someone had recently lost their favourite snake. They simply couldn’t come to terms with how such a beautiful animal, their pride and joy, was no longer in the world. They had spent years learning about and caring for snakes but this most recent loss had completely floored them.

The grief of this particular person leapt out of the screen. They wanted to share photos, talk about their snake’s wonderful quirks and mourn their loss but they didn’t know who would understand.

Thankfully, many people on this particular forum had responded with empathy and understanding.

Find people who understand

Sadly, some people will never understand how we can grieve for what they see as an ‘unusual’ pet. 

Animals such as snakes, spiders, scorpions, birds or rats, for example, are often the focus of phobias, so there will always be those who struggle to see how these animals can elicit feelings of love.

But your experience is different. You know the joy of caring for one or more of these animals.

Be reassured that your tribe is out there – people who understand your loss, who know the care you took over your pet and how they shaped the patterns of your life. 

Pop into The Ralph Site’s Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook and you’ll be able to find some kindred spirits who have experienced their own losses and can offer you support at this difficult time.

Coping with pet loss grief

There are many articles on The Ralph Site blog dedicated to helping you cope with pet loss grief and the different emotions you may be experiencing. We’d like to share some of the key advice here:

  1. Feel your feelings

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. People often feel embarrassed about grieving for an animal but the reality is that grief happens whenever we lose someone or something that we love from our life. You are entitled to feel your loss and all of the feelings that go with it. 

Instead of fighting how you feel or believing that you need to bottle up your grief, try to give your feelings space to exist.

  1. Grief has no timeframe

In The Ralph Site support group, people often say, “I know I should be feeling better by now” as if there is a time limit on grief. This really isn’t the case. No-one else gets to say when you are ‘done’ grieving. In fact, most people find that they always carry their grief to a certain extent – it’s just that it changes shape and becomes easier to live with eventually.

  1. Acknowledge what you have lost

As pet carers, our pets shape our lives. Perhaps your living room is organised around a vivarium or your usual daily routine is built around feeding or handling your pet. Maybe you’ve made friends with people who are interested in the same kind of pets or you’re an active member of forums dedicated to pet care.

When a pet dies, it’s not just them that we lose but the routines and even the relationships that we embraced because of that pet. Naturally, this adds another level to your grief and it’s important to acknowledge that.

  1. Practice self-care

When you’re grieving, it can be hard to find the energy for self-care. Put a little time aside each day to eat something nutritious or to get moving. Spend time with your other pets, if you have them – caring for them and maintaining their routines is important and will hopefully help you feel better in the darkest moments.

Many people find it helpful to memorialise the pet who has died or to journal their grief. If you’re a creative person, how about making a tribute to your so-called ‘unusual’ pet?

Again, there is no right or wrong – only what feels right for you.

  1. Reach out for support

There seems to be a growing understanding in our society that pet loss grief can affect us as deeply as grief for our human loved ones. Do talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling, if you are able. 

Sometimes though, it helps to talk to other bereaved pet carers, which is why The Ralph Site exists. We’ve already mentioned our Facebook support group – please do check it out

You might also find it helpful to talk to a pet bereavement counsellor or the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Service

Conclusion

Yes, some people may describe your pet as ‘unusual’, ‘exotic’ or ‘unconventional’ but who’s to say what’s unusual, really? Whatever their species, your pet was part of your family, your life and the security of being at home. It’s little wonder that you miss them.

And remember that grief is grief, whatever its cause. It can be incredibly hard to process what has happened when the rest of the world seems to be carrying on, oblivious. Just know that there are people who understand. 

You are not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

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