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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Ever since I was a child, I always had pets. These pets ranged from rats to frogs to dogs. My mom had always taught my siblings and me the very important lesson of treating all living things with respect. Animals are innocent souls who can’t speak for themselves, and I believe it’s our job to be their voice. Because I grew up in an environment where animals are part of the family, I always felt deeply connected to them and it truly is amazing just how beneficial animals can be to your mental health and overall well-being. 

In my first year of college, I had trouble adjusting to my new life, as many do. I have always struggled with being alone and I remember the first night lying in my dorm room thinking about how I felt more alone than ever. For me, being alone heightens my anxiety extremely. The best solution I have found is to get yourself a companion. That way you’ll never have to actually be alone. 

Freshman year, I adopted three precious bunnies. These bunnies became a part of who I was. I felt like I had my own little family, and when I was anxious or sad, I had my babies to comfort me. Fast forward to my junior year. I was visiting my brother at his new college and one night, I got a call from my boyfriend. He was screaming on the phone telling me my rabbits had died. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that this event left me deeply scarred. 

When I came back to school, and to my empty bedroom, I was miserable. I felt sickeningly depressed but at the same time, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to grieve as hard as I was. Losing an animal is hard for everyone, but I felt like I had lost an actual person, let alone three. Many people view the loss of a pet as less significant than the loss of a human family member, which I am not disagreeing with, but it led to me feeling very isolated. I was scared of what losing a loved one could do to me if I could barely handle this. My world had stopped as everyone else’s kept spinning, and it was extremely hard for me to navigate what I was feeling. 

Soon, I started doing research to see if other people had taken to losing an animal as hard as I had. I came across the term “disenfranchised grief”. This term can apply to many things, but in this article, I am referring to it as related to the loss of a pet. Disenfranchised grief is when your grieving doesn’t fit in with society’s attitude about dealing with death and loss. The lack of support you get during your grieving process can prolong emotional pain, and due to the stigma associated with grieving for a pet, individuals may hide their feelings, making it even harder for them to find emotional support. 

I am writing this article because I found a lot of comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. If you are someone going through something similar, please don’t feel guilty about your emotions. It is completely normal to feel like you lost a family member. 

To address disenfranchised grief related to losing an animal, it’s important for both the grieving individual and their support network to recognize the significance of the bond with the pet. Encouraging open communication, validating their feelings, and offering empathy can go a long way in helping someone cope with the loss of a beloved animal companion. Additionally, seeking support from pet loss support groups or counseling services specializing in grief can provide a safe space for processing these emotions. 

A year later, my heart still hurts when I think about my rabbits. I’ll always miss them, but I try to remember that grief is just love with nowhere to go. If you unfortunately find yourself relating to this article, know that I feel for you and that you’re not alone. Due to f this experience, I’ve learned that pet loss is a difficult journey, but one that ultimately leads to learning, loving, growing, and healing. 

Cate Backes

CU Boulder '24

Cate is currently a junior at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying Information Management / Data Analytics and Journalism. Just a few things she's interested in writing about include business, real-world problems, and personal experiences. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her pet cat named Toast and reading.