the Loss of a Pet
*, Cori Bussolari
, Betty J. Carmack
Nigel P. Field
The current study examined posttraumatic growth (PTG) experienced by bereaved
pet owners following the death of their pet. Using qualitative methodology, we
analyzed responses of 308 participants who answered yes to a question about experi-
encing PTG. Within the five factors model of PTG, the most endorsed included the
following: Relating to Others (n¼76), Appreciation of Life (n¼52), Personal
Strength (n¼51), Spiritual Change (n¼32), and New Possibilities (n¼29). Other
themes not captured by the PTG included as follows: relating to animals (n¼70),
continuing bonds (n¼53), attachment relationship (n¼44), and unconditional
love (n¼13). Our findings support the notion that PTG occurs for people who
have experienced pet loss, with new emergent themes.
posttraumatic growth, continuing bonds, pet loss
OMEGA—Journal of Death and
!The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
Pacific Graduate School of Psychology at Palo Alto University, Palo Alto, CA, USA
Department of Counseling Psychology, University of San Francisco, CA, USA
Hospice Caregiver, Zen Hospice Project, San Francisco, CA, USA
School of Nursing, University of San Francisco, CA, USA
Wendy Packman, Pacific Graduate School of Psychology at Palo Alto University, 1791 Arastradero
Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA.
*The first two authors contributed equally to this work.
Introduction: Literature Review
Research exploring bereavement and grief has primarily focused on negative after-
eﬀects of trauma or death (Hogan & Schmidt, 2002; Murphy, Johnson, & Logan,
2002; Neeleman, Sytema, & Wadsworth, 2002). More recently, there has been an
increasing body of literature suggesting that positive emotional and behavioral
changes can also result following these traumatic experiences (Linley & Joseph,
2003). For example, Linley and Joseph (2003) note that for survivors of trauma,
including bereavement, 30% to 70% report a positive change. This positive
change has been similarly deﬁned with names such as meaning reconstruction
(Neimeyer, Burke, MacKay, & van Dyke Stringer, 2010), stress-related growth
(Schaefer & Moos, 1992), beneﬁt ﬁnding (Davis, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Larson,
1998), and posttraumatic growth (PTG; Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2001), as well as
ﬂourishing, positive emotions, and thriving (Park, 2010). PTG has been deﬁned by
Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) as the positive changes that can occur due to strug-
gles with highly challenging life crises. According to Calhoun, Tedeschi, Cann,
and Hanks (2010), changes in self-concept following trauma are captured in the
paradoxical phrase ‘‘more vulnerable, yet stronger’’ (p. 127).
Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) deﬁne PTG as
the experience of individuals,whose development, at least in some areas, has surpassed
what was present before the struggle with crises occurred. The individual has not only
survived, but has experienced changes that are viewed as important, and that go
beyond what was the previous status quo. PTG is not simply a return to baseline –
it is an experience of improvement that for some persons is deeply profound. (p. 4)
According to Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004), PTG can be manifested in an assort-
ment of ways, including an increased appreciation for life, more meaningful inter-
personal relationships, an increased sense of personal strength, changed priorities,
as well as a richer existential and spiritual life. In many ways, PTG can also be
described as a qualitative transformation of someone’s response to a signiﬁcant
hardship or suﬀering (Linley & Joseph, 2003). The Posttraumatic Growth
Inventory (PTGI; Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1996) was created to measure the con-
structs most central to this paradigm. The ﬁve domains include the following:
Relating to Others, New Possibilities, Personal Strength, Spiritual Change, and
Appreciation of Life. Because it is probable that people who experience growth
(PTG) will also concurrently experience posttraumatic depreciation, Baker, Kelly,
Calhoun, Cann, and Tedeschi (2008) most recently developed the PTGI-42 to allow
individuals to report depreciation in the same areas that they reported growth.
Posttraumatic Growth and Bereavement
One of the most commonly reported life crises is the death of a loved one, and
the subsequent bereavement process, yet much research into the grief process has
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failed to address the possibility of growth (Calhoun et al., 2010). In a review of
the existing literature, PTG was found to exist in bereaved individuals (Calhoun
et al., 2010; Michael & Cooper, 2013), and active coping strategies and social
support helped facilitate growth (Michael & Cooper, 2013). Calhoun et al.
(2010) continue to support the theory that growth and beneﬁts can be experi-
enced independently of a reduction in psychological distress or an overall sense
of well-being, and posit that some distress may serve as a reminder of the growth
that has occurred.
In a recent comprehensive mixed-methods review of 70 published journal
articles, Michael and Cooper (2013) examined PTG following bereavement,
noting the scarcity of previous research in this arena. A total of 15 empirical
studies were found to have connections between PTG and bereavement.
Emergent themes included positive personal transformation in self-concept,
reappraisal of life and priorities, and experience of less negative symptoms.
Michael and Cooper (2013) also found that certain factors acted as mediators
for PTG following bereavement such as age, time since death, social support,
religion or spirituality, and cognitive coping such as meaning making.
According to Calhoun et al. (2010), the death of a loved other disrupts one’s
core beliefs about how the world is supposed to work. Higher levels of anguish
and disruption relate to higher levels of posttraumatic stress disorder and the
potential for PTG. ‘‘...it is the level of disruption of core beliefs which best
predicts growth’’ (p. 132). The authors also note that bereavement diﬀers
from other stressful events in relation to PTG. For example, using a sample
of 800 participants from the United States who completed the PTGI and the
Core Beliefs Inventory (Cann, Calhoun, Tedeschi, Kilmer, et al., 2010), there
were diﬀerences between those individuals reporting on a death and those
reporting another event. Speciﬁcally, those reporting on a death demonstrated
more growth in Relationships with Others, Appreciation of Life, and Spiritual
Change, with less growth reported in the areas of Personal Strengths and New
Possibilities (Calhoun et al., 2010).
Continuing bonds, PTG, and pet bereavement. Research into the human–animal bond
has consistently demonstrated that the loss of a pet can be equal to or exceed the
psychological pain and social upheaval of the loss of a valued human attachment
relationship (Field, Orsini, Gavish, & Packman, 2009; Packman, Field,
Carmack, & Ronan 2011; Quackenbush, 1985). In recent bereavement literature,
the concept of continuing bonds (CB) has received growing attention, especially
its function in relation to coping following a death (Field & Friedrichs, 2004;
Field, Gao, & Paderna, 2005; Klass, Silverman, & Nickman, 1996; Stroebe,
Gergen, Gergen & Stroebe, 1992). Despite the permanence of physical separ-
ation, the bereaved can be emotionally sustained through a CB to the deceased
(Field, Nichols, Holen, & Horowitz, 1999). Examples of CB include reminiscing
about the loved one, memorials and rituals, dreams, and holding onto special
Packman et al. 3
possessions as remembrances. Thus, resolving grief does not involve ending a
relationship with the deceased, but rather a renegotiation and transformation of
the meaning of the loss over time (Field, 2008; Klass et al., 1996).
Until 2011, the concept of CB had not been described in the pet bereavement
literature (Packman et al., 2011). Earlier writers described phenomena that were
experienced as CBs but not labeled as such (Carmack, 2003; Cowles, 1985;
Podrazik, Shackford, Becker, & Heckert, 2000; Weisman, 1990/1991).
Packman et al. (2011) examined and quantiﬁed CB expressions (CBE) experi-
enced by bereaved pet owners. The most frequently endorsed CBE about the pet
were recalling fond memories (85%), holding onto or using belongings (79%),
reminiscing with others (79%), and lessons learned or positive inﬂuences (76%;
Packman et al., 2011).
While there are an increasing number of studies exploring the PTG experi-
ences of bereaved individuals following the death of a beloved human, to our
knowledge, there is presently only one study examining PTG following the death
of a beloved companion animal (Packman et al., 2011). Results of that study
indicated that there was an overall tendency for bereaved pet owners to ﬁnd CB
more comforting than distressing. At the same time, there was a direct relation-
ship between deriving comfort from CBE and PTG.
The aim of the current study is to qualitatively investigate the construct of
PTG in a sample of participants who have lost their companion animal. First,
we investigated to what extent the responses of the participants mapped on to
the ﬁve factors of the PTGI (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). Second, we explored
the other categories of PTG that are unique to individuals who have lost a pet,
such as CB and unconditional love.
Participants and Procedure
Bereaved pet owners were recruited via requests posted online and per-
sonal solicitations to pet loss support groups. A cover letter explaining
the goal of the study, the researchers’ aﬃliations, and link to the Survey
Monkey website were sent to potential participants. Eligible participants
were required to be at least 18 years of age and must have lost a pet through
death. The study was approved by the institutional review board at Palo Alto
Participants had the option of completing the pet loss survey on the internet
or could request that hard copies be mailed to them. An informed consent page
was at the beginning of the survey. Whether participants completed the survey
or not, they were given links to pet loss support services and resources.
Participants completed a demographic questionnaire followed by a six objective
measures. In addition to the objective measures, there were three open-ended
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questions. In this article, we focus on responses to the following question con-
cerning PTG since the loss:
Despite the painful experience of losing your pet, people sometimes describe having
found something of personal value in having had to face such a loss. For example,
some people report having become more spiritual, having become closer to others,
or having become stronger as a result of facing the loss. Have you discovered
something of personal value that has come out of your experience of the loss of
your pet? (please answer yes or no)
If people answered yes, they were asked ‘‘please describe ways this is true for
At the time of data analysis, there were 3,804 respondents to the survey.
Of those, 1,956 (49.8%) answered yes to the above question about PTG and
1,848 (50.2%) answered no. Due to the large number of responses, a repre-
sentative sample of 308 was selected from the 1,956 respondents who
answered the last open-ended question using a systematic sampling method.
The starting point was randomized, and every sixth subsequent person was
selected. Respondents were not pre-examined to ‘‘cherry-pick.’’ As long as the
starting point is randomized, systematic sampling is considered to be a type
of probability sampling for selecting essentially a random sample (Finlay &
Research Design: Qualitative Analytic Procedure
The transcribed interviews were uploaded into ATLAS.Ti 6.0, a software pro-
gram that provides a systematic approach to organization, coding, and analysis
of qualitative data. We used directed content analysis, a qualitative method that
is guided by theory or prior research (Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999) to
analyze participants’ responses to the last question. ‘‘The goal of a directed
approach to content analysis is to validate or extend conceptually a theoretical
framework or theory’’ (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). Content analysis using such an
approach is a more structured process than conventional content analysis
(Hickey & Kipping, 1996). Investigators begin by identifying key concepts as
initial coding categories (Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999). Next, operational
deﬁnitions for each coding category are determined based on theory. In the
current investigation, PTG and depreciation, bereavement and CB theories
(Doka, 2008; Field, 2008) as well as prior research on pet loss (Carmack,
2003; Orsini, 2005; Packman et al., 2011) guided the development of initial
coding categories. The major strength of directed content analysis is that
‘‘existing theory can be supported and extended’’ (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).
The responses were ﬁrst independently coded by the authors and then
reviewed by all four together until consensus was reached. Our primary aim
Packman et al. 5
was to investigate the extent to which the bereaved pet owners’ responses
mapped onto the 42 items of the PTGI (Baker et al., 2008; Tedeschi &
Calhoun 1996). The PTGI (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996) is a 21-item scale that
measures positive changes reported by individuals who have experienced trau-
matic events. The PTGI (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996) was created to provide a
measure of PTG using the ﬁve factors that the researchers proposed were central
to this construct: (a) Relating to Others, (b) New Possibilities, (c) Personal
Strength, (d) Spiritual Change, and (e) Appreciation of Life. The Paired
Format Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI-42; Baker et al., 2008) is a
revision of the PTGI (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996), and it assesses both growth
and depreciation. The inventory includes the 21 items from the original PTGI
and 21 matched but negatively worded items developed by Baker et al. (2008) to
measure posttraumatic depreciation. Data that did not map onto the PTGI were
identiﬁed and analyzed to determine if they represented a new theme or a sub-
category of an existing category. Thus, emerging themes were identiﬁed and
categorized, and new codes developed as needed.
Data Analysis: Descriptive Statistics
Background characteristics, parameters of the loss, and self-reports of the
strength of attachment and grief (ICG) are detailed later.
Standardized measures. The Pet Attachment Scale (PAS; Gosse, 1988) is an 11-
item measure assessing the strength of attachment the participant has to his
or her deceased pet. Each item is rated on a 5-point scale ranging from
almost never to almost always. The scale has a demonstrated high level of
internal consistency with Kerlinger (1986) ﬁnding a Cronbach’s alpha coeﬃ-
cient of .74 for the 11-item intimacy subscale. Gosse found a Cronbach’s
alpha coeﬃcient of .74 and Jarolmen (1996) found a Cronbach’s alpha coef-
ﬁcient of .77.
The Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG; Prigerson & Jacobs, 2001) is a
19-item self-report questionnaire that measures symptoms of grief.
Respondents rate their feelings with respect to their deceased pet over the
month regarding the symptoms described on a 5-point scale. The total score
is a summation of the item scores and indicates the severity of grief symp-
toms. This study used 9 of the original 19 items of the ICG in order to create
a shorter scale which did not include items that are more useful for describ-
ing CBs with the deceased (Filanosky, 2003). Filanosky (2003) validated use
of this instrument using only 9 of the original 19 items in his study on grief
and CB in an adult sample of grievers. The ICG is internally consistent
(Cronbach’s alpha ¼.095) and has an acceptable level of criterion-related val-
idity (Prigerson & Jacobs, 2001).
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Quantitative Findings: Characteristics of the Sample
Participants and procedures. Demographic variables, contextual factors, and other
aspects associated with the loss are detailed in Table 1. A total of 308 individuals
between the ages 18 and 69 (average age of 42 years) participated in the study.
The sample included 251 females and 57 males; 87% (n¼268) of the sample
were Caucasian. In terms of education, 30% had attended graduate school and
21% attended college. Of the total sample, 60.7% (n¼193) lost their dogs, while
35.4% (n¼115) lost their cats. The deceased pet’s age ranged from less than
1 year to 21 years with an average age of 11 years. A total of 69% of participants
made the decision to euthanize their animal. With respect to relationship to the
deceased, the Best Friend (45%) category comprised the largest percentage of
the relationships, followed by Parental (33%), Partner/Signiﬁcant Other (1%),
and Other (soulmate, protector; 11%) categories. Time Since Death ranged from
1 day to 4 years.
Pet Attachment Scale. The mean score was 3.49 (SD ¼1.64). In Orsini’s (2005)
study of pet loss, participants reported a mean score of 3.63.
Inventory of Complicated Grief. The mean score was 2.98 (SD ¼1.39). In a study
looking at bereavement in humans, the mean score on the ICG was 2.55
(Filanosky, 2003). In Orsini’s (2005) study of pet loss, participants reported a
mean score of 2.20 on the ICG.
Relating to Others. The most prominent theme was Relating to Others (19%;
Table 2). The two items that were coded most frequently were I have a greater
sense of closeness with others and I have more compassion for others. As a result
of the loss, participants felt closer to members of their nuclear family because of
the signiﬁcant shared loss experience. For example, ‘‘I feel a stronger bond
between my son and my husband. I was distant from my husband until this
tragedy. Now, I’m starting to see how great he is.’’
I have more compassion for others was exempliﬁed by comments such as,
‘‘It has tested the strength of my faith and reinforced my ability to maintain
empathy and consideration for others despite my tremendous sense of loss and
sadness’’ and ‘‘I feel that all the love I felt for my pet can be given to people and
my current pet.’’ Another participant stated, ‘‘I think I have been kinder, more
conscious of people’s feelings. I have been kinder to my patients, and going out
of my way more to ease their pain. I make them more comfortable.’’ It appears
that a sense of caring and compassion extended beyond family to include their
Packman et al. 7
Table 1. Demographic and Background Information (N¼308).
Male 57 19
Female 251 81
Relationship to deceased
Best friend 225 73
Parental 95 31
Partner/significant other 75 24
Other (soul mate, protector, family member,
sister, mentor, guardian angel)
Most important role
Best friend 138 45
Parental 102 33
Partner/significant pther 34 1
Other (soul mate, protector, family member,
sister, mentor, guardian angel)
Single 83 27
Married/partnered 176 57
Divorced 38 12
Separated 8 3
Widow/widower 3 1
Cause of death
Natural 54 18
Unexpected 71 23
Major disease 121 39
Other (mauled by dog, taken by coyote,
perceived vet incompetence)
Yes 213 69
No 95 31
Yes 120 39
No 188 61
Less than high school 3 1
High school 30 10
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surviving pets and others’ experiences of loss. It is noteworthy that very few
participants were coded for the item I know I can count on people in times of
trouble. This is perhaps a speciﬁc consequence of pet loss being disenfranchised
and feeling unable to reach out for support beyond a very close circle.
Personal Strength. This was the second most coded theme, along with Appreciation
of Life (12%). I have discovered that I am stronger than I thought I was is the single
most coded item in the study, most likely due to the participants’ experience with
euthanasia. For example, ‘‘I am stronger than I thought I was. I had always said I
couldn’t be there when she died let alone make the decision to put her to sleep. But
I was there till her last breath’’ and ‘‘I can survive soul crushing grief. It did not
kill me when it felt like it could have.’’ In many ways, there was a level of surprise
that they had the strength to go through with it. For the most part, euthanasia was
Table 1. Continued
Vocational/trade 15 5
College 65 21
Graduate school 91 30
Less than $25,000 22 7
$25,000–$49,999 66 21
$50,000–$74,999 69 22
$75,000–$100,000 72 23
More than $100,000 0 0
Yes 212 69
No 97 31
African American 2 1
Latino 15 5
Native American 4 1
Caucasian 268 87
Asian Pacific Islander 10 3
Multiethnic 2 1
Other 7 2
Other data Mean SD
Age of owner (years) 42 11.82
Age of pet (years) 11
Time since death (days) 152
Packman et al. 9
Table 2. Responses Captured by PTGI (N¼412).
PTG factors NPercent
I. Relating to Others 78 19
Knowing that I can count on people in times of
A sense of closeness with others 27
A willingness to express my emotions 10
Having compassion for others 27
Putting effort into my relationships 5
I learned a great deal about how wonderful
I accept needing others 4
II. New Possibilities 29 07
I developed new interests 0
I established a new path for my life 7
I am able to do better things with my life 2
New opportunities are available which
wouldn’t have been otherwise
I am more likely to try to change things which
III. Personal strength 51 12
A feeling of self-reliance 4
Knowing I can handle difficulties 11
Being able to accept the way things work out 4
I have discovered that I am stronger than
I thought I was
IV. Spiritual Change 32 08
A better understanding of spiritual matters 23
I have a stronger religious faith 10
V. Appreciation of Life 51 12
My priorities about what is important in life 25
An appreciation for the value of my own life 3
Appreciating each day 23
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Table 2. Continued
PT depreciation factors NPercent
I. Relating to Others 6 01
Knowing that I cannot count on people in
times of trouble
A greater sense of distance from others 1
Less willingness to express my emotions 0
Having less compassion for others 0
Putting less effort into my relationships 0
I learned a great deal about how disappointing
I find it harder to accept needing others 1
II. New Possibilities 1 0.2
I have fewer interests than before 0
A less clear path for my life 1
I am less capable of doing better things with my life 0
Fewer opportunities are available than would
have been before
I am less likely to try to change things which
III. Personal Strength 4 0.9
A diminished feeling of self-reliance 3
Less certain that I can handle difficulties 0
Less able to accept the way things work out 1
I have discovered that I am weaker than I
thought I was
IV. Spiritual Change 4 02
A poorer understanding of spiritual matters 4
I have a weaker religious faith 4
V. Appreciation of Life 0
Difficult to clarify priorities about what is
important in life
Less of an appreciation for the value of
my own life
Appreciating each day less than before 0
Packman et al. 11
perceived as an act of kindness and compassion, as one respondent noted, ‘‘I feel
that it is a gift to be with a special being when it passes, that is an important last
thing you do with your pet.’’
I know that I can better handle diﬃculties was the second most coded item within
this theme, again most likely due to euthanasia. For example, ‘‘I realized the day I
had to put my dog to sleep that I was an adult. This was a very tough decision and
it forced me to look at life in a new light’’ and ‘‘Having the courage to make a
there during the last minutes, made me a stronger person.’’ The death of their pet
was a sobering rite of passage, and through the process of euthanasia, they learned
that they could tolerate even the most unbearable emotions.
Appreciation of Life. I have changed my priorities about what is important in life was
the most coded item within this theme. Respondents’ priorities seemed to have
broadened from immediate family to pets and an extended circle of connections.
For instance, ‘‘Cherish every moment you have with loved ones’’ and ‘‘Do not
Table 2. Continued
Relating to animals 68 17
Attachment relationship 44
Unconditional Love 13
Continuing bonds/coping with loss 60 15
Lessons learned 31
Fond memories 5
Sense of presence 1
Drawn to places 1
Everyday decisions 1
Retaining possessions 1
After life 3
Growth 24 06
Anticipatory growth 11
Too early 6
No personal growth/no value 7
12 OMEGA—Journal of Death and Dying 0(0)
take life and those you care about for granted, they may suddenly not be there.’’
What also seemed clear was that participants experienced life as ﬂeeting and
precious. For example, ‘‘I realize that death is the only certain thing in life and
that I must appreciate my two dogs even more.’’
The second most highly coded item was I can better appreciate each day.
Bereaved pet owners were largely inspired by the lives of their animals. For
example, ‘‘I try to remember to live in the ‘‘Now’’ like a dog does.’’ In addition,
they viewed life and friendship with a fresh perspective, ‘‘Each loss reminds me
to value those in my life, to appreciate each one of them, humans and animals.’’
The item I have a greater appreciation for the value of my own life was one of the
least coded items.
Spiritual Change. Only 8% of participants’ responses were coded for this theme,
although I have a better understanding of spiritual matters was one of the higher
endorsed items within this theme and overall. Being more present in the moment
and experiencing a greater connection with the universe emerged. For example,
‘‘I have a fonder appreciation of all living creatures. I am less attached to material
items and have a sense of connection to the universe’’ Another respondent noted,
‘‘Your faith was strong, but you needed proof’’ is a song lyric that has struck a
chord in me diﬀerently since she died. I am still in awe from all of the connectivity
that is involved. Strength. Bravery. Increased trust in myself, in Spirit, in others.
While a greater percentage of people admitted to being spiritually connected,
fewer participants found that the death had strengthened their faith. Of those
that did, it became a source of great comfort. For example,
God and I had not had a relationship until now ...I’ll tell you, my sweet, little man
is running and jumping free and clear in heaven ...At some level God helped me to
know it was my little man’s time. I hope he helps my grief.
New Possibilities. This theme was the least coded for participants (7%). The most
common item was I am more likely to try to change things which need changing,
with speciﬁc comments related to how they would make life better for their
surviving pets. It appears that respondents were more conscious of the need to
take better care of their other animals. While several respondents talked about
taking better care of their health, this was predominately so they were healthy
enough to take better care of their surviving pets. For example, ‘‘I have wanted
to take action and improve my own health so I can take care of all my cats for
years to come.’’ Of interest, the comments coded for the item I established a new
path for my life can be characterized by animal rescue themes. For instance,
‘‘I feel I am meant to rescue animals and give them the gift of a good life’’ and
Packman et al. 13
‘‘I have also realized that my purpose in life is to help animals, especially since
my dog was a stray that we adopted, and he touched my life forever. Other
strays like him deserve a chance in life.’’ In general, their comments did not focus
on any new possibilities for themselves or for other people.
As noted previously, people can also experience negative symptoms in addition
to PTG (Baker et al., 2008). Within our sample, there was a small percentage of
comments (4.1%) that could be related to posttraumatic depreciation. The most
common depreciating factor was Spiritual Change (.2%). Comments included:
‘‘I have found myself questioning my faith’’ and ‘‘I’m angry, I’m mad at God.
God promised me I wouldn’t lose my dog. I hate God.’’ The second most coded
depreciation factor was Relating to Others (.1%) Respondents noted, ‘‘Generally
it (the death of his or her pet) has highlighted that most people are disappointing
in character,’’ ‘‘No one truly loves or appreciates me for who I am’’ and ‘‘People
In the area of Anticipatory Growth (.06%), respondents indicated that while
they were currently not experiencing growth because the loss might have been
too recent, they still acknowledged the potential for personal growth to happen
in their future. For example, ‘‘I believe I will discover personal value as time
passes,’’ ‘‘It only happened yesterday, however, I feel that she will be the catalyst
for important life changes including exercise and meditation,’’ and ‘‘The death is
too new. I am hoping I can learn to love as unconditionally as he did.’’
Pet Loss: Emergent Growth Themes
In addition to the PTGI themes (Baker et al., 2008), we also found that many
participants’ responses could be coded within other areas: Relating to Animals
and Continuing Bonds/Coping with Loss.
Relating to animals. A total of 17% of the responses were coded within Relating to
Animals, only second to Relating to Others, our highest coded theme. Within this
theme, 44 participants were coded for the item Attachment Relationship.Of
these, a vast majority were only coded for Attachment Relationship and none
of the other PTGI items. Some respondents were surprised by how much they
missed and loved their pet. For example, ‘‘I have learned that I took for granted
how much a part of my life my pet was and am surprised at how grief stricken
I am.’’ Research ﬁndings have consistently shown the greater the attachment to
a pet, the higher the level of grief (Field et al., 2009). Similarly, participants also
14 OMEGA—Journal of Death and Dying 0(0)
commented on how the loss highlighted a capacity for attachment they were not
fully aware of. For example,
Loving/missing her made me realize the extent to which I could love something, the
lengths to which I would go to take care of her, what it was to feel genuine and
irrevocable happiness and love . . .
Not surprisingly, some participants’ responses were coded for Unconditional
Love. In addition, a majority of participants’ responses were only coded for
Unconditional Love and none of the other PTGI items (Baker et al., 2008).
She taught me about unconditional love. In her ﬁnal hours, I think she was hanging
on because she was afraid to leave me. I told her she had my permission to leave,
and when she did go, I feel, it was an actual privilege to be holding her paw at the
The unconditional love of their pet also seemed diﬀerent than human love, as
one participant noted, ‘‘My pet showed me love in its truest sense. It was the ﬁrst
living creature I was able to love outside of my nuclear family.’’
Continuing Bonds/Coping with Loss. The third most commonly coded theme, overall,
was Continuing Bonds/Coping with Loss (15%). Within this theme, 31 partici-
pants’ comments were coded for the item Lessons Learned, speciﬁcally reﬂecting
upon their animals and the qualities they would like to emulate. For example,
I use my pet as a symbol or motivation and courage to accomplish things. He
taught us so much in his lifetime he has left a legacy that I hope to live up to
one day. Tolerance, humour, kindness, boldness, I could go on forever
‘‘The love I have/had for my cat enabled me to open my heart more and be more
openly sensitive and loving,’’ as well as ‘‘not fearing death, if that little dog can
do it without fear, should not be a big deal when my day comes.’’ In the same
vein, respondents believed that the death of their animals brought powerful
teachings. One respondent noted,
She taught me about responsibility before I had children, she’s now teaching me
about coping with grief and loss before I lose my parents or any other human close
to me. She has been the ﬁrst in several of tough life lessons.
The second most coded item was Reunited. For many, the thought of being
reunited with their animals was quite comforting and made them less fearful
of death. For instance, ‘‘I’m more open to the idea of God and Heaven and
Packman et al. 15
all of that, because if any of that does exist on some plane of existence,
I want to be there to see my babies again’’ and ‘‘I now have a calm peaceful
feeling about death. I’m no longer afraid to die. For I know, when I do, my
cat will be there waiting for me. No matter how long it takes.’’
To our knowledge, this is one of the ﬁrst studies to investigate the PTG
construct in a sample of participants who have lost their companion
animal. Using qualitative methodology, we investigated the extent to which
participants’ responses mapped onto the ﬁve factors of the PTGI (Baker
et al., 2008; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). Next, we identiﬁed other categories
of PTG not captured by the PTGI that are unique to individuals who have
lost a pet.
A total of 58% of responses mapped onto the ﬁve factors of the PTGI put
forth by Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004). Relating to Others was our most pre-
dominant theme. This is consistent with the research ﬁndings of Calhoun et al.
(2010) for bereavement following loss. In our study, participants’ primarily
focused upon a sense of closeness with their nuclear family and surviving pets.
Rarely did they mention feelings of connectedness to people outside their close
circles. It is also important to note that very few endorsed the item I know I can
count on people in times of trouble. This could be due to the disenfranchised
nature of pet death, which contributes to a perceived or experienced lack of
support and social isolation (Doka, 2008).
In contrast to Calhoun et al.’s (2010) PTG bereavement ﬁndings, Personal
Strength was highly endorsed by our sample of pet loss participants. This ﬁnding
may be due to the experience of euthanasia, unique to pet loss. The participants
wrote about having to make a choice and go through with something they did
not think they would be able to do. Thus, they realized they were ‘‘stronger than
Participants indicated that they were inspired to appreciate each day and live
in the present the way their animal did (Appreciation of Life). One of the least
coded items—I have a greater appreciation for the value of my own life—might
have been more strongly endorsed had the respondent’s life been directly threa-
tened in some way (Shakespeare-Finch, Marinek, Tedeschi, & Calhoun, 2013).
In the spiritual realm, participants’ comments were coded within I have a better
understanding of spiritual matters, yet their faith did not seem strengthened by
the loss. Participants described future change or opportunities (New
Possibilites), with responses primarily focusing upon animal rescue ideals such
as adopting strays. Our open-ended question allowed for participants to write
about positive or negative changes following the death of their pet. Similar to
ﬁndings from a previous study (Cann, Calhoun, Tedeschi, & Solomon, 2010),
respondents reported both positive and negative experiences. However, of those
16 OMEGA—Journal of Death and Dying 0(0)
who endorsed PTG, very few noted concurrent posttraumatic depreciation
In summary, 58% of responses were categorized within the PTGI. Unique to
our study, however, 38% of the responses were categorized within new and
emergent themes. Research has historically shown that we similarly attach to
both humans and animals (Nebbe, 2001; Rynearson, 1978), and that the stron-
ger the attachment, the higher the level of grief (Field et al., 2009). For our
participants, PTG following pet loss is often expressed through experiences of
the Attachment Relationship and Unconditional Love, speciﬁcally with their
animal. It is, therefore, not surprising that 17% of participants were coded for
Relating to Animals, the second most endorsed theme, overall.
The third most endorsed theme was Continuing Bonds/Coping with Loss
(15%). Over time, participants were able to transform the meaning of the loss
and cope through CB such as being reunited with their pet and Lessons Learned.
Many participants were dually coded for the CB of Lessons Learned and the
PTGI item I can better appreciate each day. Had we just coded responses under
the themes of Appreciation of Life and Relating to Others, we would have
missed these novel growth factors speciﬁc to the pet loss sample.
Future Research Implications
Similar to the loss of a human, our current research supports the notion that
PTG can and does occur following the loss of a pet. The themes that emerged
were remarkably similar to growth following the loss of a human (Calhoun
et al., 2010). Future research in pet loss should focus on using the traditional
PTGI-42 (Baker et al., 2008) items, while also including and validating the new
themes and items found within our current study: Attachment Relationship,
Unconditional Love, and CB. The latter themes capture the unique concept of
growth after pet loss and are not captured by the PTGI. Our ﬁndings also
highlight that using coping skills such as CB following the loss of a pet can be
a growth-enhancing component of bereavement.
As noted within this study, there are other factors that impact and interact
with PTG. Future research should include an in-depth exploration of contextual
factors related to the relationship between pet loss and PTG, which may impact
participants’ growth responses, such as disenfranchised experiences.
Disenfranchisement is often reported by bereaved pet owners, and it may greatly
impact resiliency and growth. Because a pet’s death is often disenfranchised,
thus resulting in minimal or no support, it would be important to look at the
relationship between experiences of disenfranchisement and PTG.
The process of euthanasia includes having the authority to give permission to
end a life and is unique to pet loss. Some respondents reported that their experi-
ences of euthanasia allowed them to recognize how strong they really were.
Therefore, we recommend examining the situational factors related to
Packman et al. 17
euthanasia and the impact on PTG. Of interest would be the connections
between the euthanasia decision-making process, subsequent intensity and dur-
ation of grief, and PTG.
In addition, the question of time since death aﬀects the experience of PTG.
Several participants wrote that it was too soon to identify PTG but anticipated
experiencing such growth. Research regarding PTG and time since death is
conﬂicting. Some studies indicate that time since trauma does not correlate
with PTG (Shakespeare et al., 2013) while others reﬂect the opposite
(Wolchik, Coxe, Tein, Sandler, & Ayers, 2009). Within our professional experi-
ence with pet loss, however, we have seen that time since death may in fact
impact PTG experiences, meaning making and healing. Calhoun et al. (2010)
encourage clinicians and researchers to remember that bereavement and its psy-
chological consequences can last much longer than typically expected in Western
culture. We agree with their suggestion that further research on bereavement and
related treatment approaches focus on both distress and growth several years
following the loss. It is important to consider that in order to fully capture PTG
experiences following the death of a pet, we must also assess time since death.
Thus, prospective-longitudinal designs are needed to enhance understanding of
the PTG process.
While the literature shows that PTG factors have the potential to correlate
with increased quality of life, general functioning, and well-being (Helgeson,
Reynolds, & Tomich, 2006), it is valuable to keep in mind that not all people
who experience a traumatic event will experience growth (Wortman, 2004). For
our current study, 3,804 respondents, about 50% did not endorse PTG when
they ﬁlled out the survey. Given the open-ended and unstructured question
regarding growth and value, respondents might not have recognized when
they in fact had experienced growth, or that they had even been engaging in
activities to cope with loss that were growth enhancing. Therefore, we recom-
mend a more structured methodology, as it might have detected growth at those
times. Finally, it would be essential for future research to explore the degree to
which PTG in pet loss is a cultural phenomenon. A multicultural approach
might indicate speciﬁc diﬀerences in this area across cultural, racial, ethnic,
age, and socioeconomic dimensions that could lead toward a clearer understand-
ing of the PTG process.
There are some limitations to the study, and the current ﬁndings should be
interpreted with caution for several reasons. One limitation is that the quanti-
tative data were based on self-report measures (ICG, PAS). It is possible that
these measures cannot adequately capture the complex nature of strength of pet
attachment and grief. Although the response rate was very high, these results
cannot be considered representative for all individuals who have lost a pet.
18 OMEGA—Journal of Death and Dying 0(0)
It is possible that the individuals who chose to participate in our internet study
diﬀered substantially from those who did not. In addition, depending upon time
since death, memory bias may occur and impact accuracy of grief perceptions
(Safer, Bonanno, & Field, 2001)
Another limitation of our study involves its cross-sectional design. Future
research should use a longitudinal research design and repeated measures of
PTG and other constructs. It would then be possible to clarify the normative
course of various PTG in pet loss. The current study ﬁndings provide insight
into how bereaved pet owners respond and cope with the loss of their pet and
extend and enhance our understanding of PTG processes.
The authors thank Scott Hines for his technical expertise and assistance, Paige Naylor for
her administrative support, and Dr Rama Ronen and Dr Tara Cronin for their data
management. Above all, the authors thank the participants for taking their time to
share with us the nature, depth, and intensity of their grief experiences and consistently
emphasized the profound importance of companion animals in their lives.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conﬂicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no ﬁnancial support for the research, authorship, and/or publica-
tion of this article.
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Wendy Packman, JD, PhD, is a professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University
(PAU). She is the director of the joint JD-PhD program in Psychology and Law
at PAU and Golden Gate University Law School. Dr. Packman has studied,
presented, and written extensively on sibling bereavement and continuing bonds,
the impact of a child’s death on parents, and the psychological sequela of pet
loss. She is the primary investigator of an international cross-cultural study
examining the use of continuing bonds following a pet’s death.
Cori Bussolari, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist and credentialed school psychol-
ogist. For most of her professional clinical career, she has worked with indivi-
duals and families coping with illness, death, or a significant life transition. In
addition to her clinical work in private practice in San Francisco, she is an
associate professor at the University of San Francisco in the Counseling
Psychology Department. While her current research involvement is in the area
of pet loss and grief, she has always been immersed within the area of bereave-
ment and trauma, especially in regard to positive and lifelong coping. She is an
active consultant for schools, families, and community mental health clinics
regarding issues related to illness, bereavement, or learning difficulties. She
also facilitates the San Francisco SPCA Pet Loss Support Group.
Rachel Katz, MA, Med, is a San Francisco-based spiritual director in private
practice, researcher and writer. Her scope of expertise includes death/dying, the
human/animal bond, grief/loss, spirituality and chronic illness. Her writing has
appeared in a number of publications and blogs, including her own. She is the
founder of Besotted, a Facebook community dedicated to the human animal
22 OMEGA—Journal of Death and Dying 0(0)
Betty J. Carmack, RN, EdD, is a professor emerita at the University of San
Francisco School of Nursing and has worked in the area of pet loss since 1982.
She initiated and has led the monthly pet loss support groups at the SF/SPCA
from 1982 to 2015. In addition to working with individuals grieving the death of
their companion animals, she has worked with the staff of humane societies,
veterinary hospitals, and animal care organizations vis-a
`-vis their specific grief
and stress issues as these relate to their work with and care of animals. She is
particularly interested in Compassion Fatigue. She has authored articles in both
the professional and lay literature, presented at numerous professional confer-
ences, engaged in research related to pet loss and mentors others who feel called
to this work. She has conducted research on the lived experience of losing a
companion animal as well as the continuing connections people have after a
beloved animal’s death. She is the author of the book Grieving the Death of a
Pet. She continues to collaborate on research related to continuing bonds and
pet loss. She served on the Board of Trustees of Pet Unlimited in San Francisco
and the Advisory Board of VET Street Outreach Services also in San Francisco.
She was on the faculty of the Schools of Nursing at both the University of
California, San Francisco, and the University of San Francisco.
Nigel P. Field, PhD, was a professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University from
1994 until his death in 2013. He is best known in thanatology as one of the
earliest and most sophisticated investigators of the continuing bond that the
bereaved often maintain with their deceased loved ones, pioneering in methods
for tracking variations in this sense of connection using self-report scales, time-
sampling procedures over the course of the day and week, and novel recording
and analysis of empty-chair monologues to a deceased spouse. In these and
other studies of adaptation to the death of a spouse, memory bias in bereave-
ment, pet loss and cultural factors in grieving, Nigel Field left a substantial
legacy of over 60 published papers that will continue to shape future scholarship
and research in the study of grief and loss.
Packman et al. 23