Surviving the Pain of Losing Your Pet


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An Interview with Dr. Katie Lawlor, Psy.D., MIA

Losing a pet can feel like a blow to the gut, leaving you gasping for air. Many pet owners will affirm that the grief they experience after a pet’s passing can feel debilitating, isolating, and leave them with an unbearable amount of guilt. While deep empathy is often found among our circle of animal loving friends, sometimes it’s not enough to help navigate the overwhelming feeling of “How do I get through this?”

Dr. Katie Lawlor is passionate about helping people cope with the loss of an animal friend. While completing her formal training in grief, neuropsychology, and trauma she recognized a lack of services for animal guardians. She responded by creating her Instagram page @petlossdoctor to connect with and offer support to grieving animal guardians. Soon after, she found herself with a full case load working with those who have lost their beloved animals or are experiencing anticipatory grief.

Early this year, she released A Tribute to My Beloved Animal: A Journal to Process Grief & Loss to provide an evidence-based resource to help process their grief. The book is available on In this interview, Dr. Lawlor shares her expertise and insight on pet grief including how to prepare, and how to begin healing.

When you began your career, did you always intend to specialize in pet loss? If not, what prompted you to shift focus?

Growing up, I always felt very close to—and at peace—in the company of animals. When I started my doctorate program, I realized there was a lack of specialized services for animal guardians—both in terms of research and treatment interventions, but also experienced and trained clinicians offering this care.

While my approach incorporates my training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), and Trauma-informed/ evidence-based trauma approaches (PE and CPT), I meet my patients where they are on their journey.

Something I am very passionate about is pet loss being included in the DSM-5-TR1 criteria for PTSD and Prolonged Grief Disorder.

How is pet loss grief the same as human loss grief?

Losing a companion animal, like losing a human loved one, leaves an extraordinary void in our lives. I don’t believe we ever move on from this loss; rather, scar tissue grows over the wound and our heart manages to keep beating.

In time, we can hopefully lead a life incorporating the wisdom, compassion, and courage they imparted on us during our time together.

Why do you think pet loss grief has been overlooked for so long?

I think that for those of us who connect so deeply and profoundly with animals, it can be vulnerable to share this bond with those who don’t understand it.

When this connection is not validated or met with apathy, we can feel isolated or ashamed.

Everyone’s pet loss and grief experience are unique. From feelings of anticipatory grief to feeling like they cannot move forward, is there another commonality pet parents share after losing a pet?

Most pet parents feel a tremendous sense of guilt—“I didn’t do enough for them while they were alive.” “They deserved so much more.” “They didn’t know how much I loved them.” Or, “It shouldn’t be this way.”

This is a topic near to my heart, as there is so much healing we can do around these sentiments.

As I discuss in my journal, in the context of loss, the word “guilt” is often used instead of “regret.” There is a massively critical distinction grievers must understand:

Guilt implies that we did something wrong; that we knew what we were doing was wrong at the time that we did it. Regret, however, is when we look back after an event, wishing we would have known or done something differently, but not knowing that what we were deciding at that moment we would later deem wrong. For so many of us who have lost a companion animal, we did what we thought was favorable at the time, only to have regrets due to the unknown variables in play.

Now that we have the proper term, we can begin to reflect on our role—our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—in what we feel so “guilty” about.

When do you recommend people reach out for professional help during the healing process?

I would suggest reaching out to a mental health profession-al—a master’s or doctorate level clinician with a degree in a related field—when you aren’t able to fulfill your personal or professional responsibilities, or when you are struggling to find meaning and fulfillment in your life following this loss.

What are the benefits of support for grieving pet parents?

The rawness of grief comes from losing the animal that— no matter what happened out in the world that day—could fix everything once we were together.

They were our home, and their closeness was a source of safety.

Receiving the support you need provides validation, understanding, and hope that you will find the strength to keep going.

Your new book A Tribute to my Beloved Animal is a guided journal to understand and process grief. Could you elaborate on what prompted you to write it?

I was working at a Stanford- affiliated therapy practice in Palo Alto when COVID lockdown started, and we went from meeting regularly every week in my office to sessions on Zoom. I wanted my patients to have something tangible that would provide them comfort and relief during this frightening time when we were physically apart.

I am also very aware that effective mental health treatment in this country is expensive, and realistically not accessible for many.

My hope is that this journal will provide everyone who is navigating the loss of their animal an affordable and evidence- based resource that has been carefully tailored to aid them in processing their grief.

What do you hope readers will gain from using this journal to process their grief?

This journal provides a protected space to safeguard readers’ thoughts and feelings. Journaling helps get things out of our heads and off our hearts, providing clarity and healing.

All the prompts in this journal have come from my experience working with those who have lost their beloved animals.

As readers progress through the pages, every word they write is a tribute to the life they shared with their animal.

My hope is that they will find peace in understanding they gave their animals a beautiful life, right by their side, and that is all they ever wanted.

Dr. Katie Lawlor
Dr. Katie Lawlor

Dr. Katie Lawlor, Psy.D, MIA is now accepting new patients through Bloomingdale Wellness Collective, and can be reached at my direct email address:

You can also connect with Dr. Lawlor on Instagram @petlossdoctor or LinkedIn)

Order: A Tribute to My Beloved Animal: A Journal to Process Grief & Loss on Amazon:

1 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses is the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s professional reference book on mental health and brain-related conditions. This is the main guide for mental health providers in the U.S. and how insurance is billed.

Pet Companion Mag
Pet Companion Mag
Southern California's Local Pet Magazine


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