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HSL 4820 Critical Reflection Extra Credit

HSL 4820 Critical Reflection Extra Credit

Look at the attached instructions below..

The book of  the course to get a concept or term from is The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying

11th EditionBy Lynne Ann DeSpelder and Albert Lee Strickland and Jeanette M. Potts and Marion Mason

HSL 4820 Critical Reflection Extra Credit Loss of a Pet

This extra credit critical reflection paper is worth a potential 10 points and is due on the date listed on the dropbox. For this assignment you must read the two journal articles on pet loss (attached to the dropbox), and then write your reflection.

You are required to integrate one term or concept from the course into your reflection (correctly citing the textbook or powerpoint lecture where it came from). You are also required to clearly integrate both readings about pet loss into your paper.

Please address the following questions/prompts in your essay. The reflection paper should be 1-2 pages long (without your reference page) and be proof-read and spell-checked. Your reference page must be in correct APA format.


1) What did you learn from the research studies about pet loss and grief that you did not know about before?

2) Which of the twelve continuing bond expressions did you (or do you still) use to maintain a connection to your deceased pet?

3) How did learning about continuing bonds and pet loss help you better comprehend your own grief related to pet loss?

What Is Critical Reflection?

“Critical reflection is a ‘meaning-making process’ that helps us set goals, use what we’ve learned in the past to inform future action and consider the real-life implications of our thinking. It is the link between thinking and doing, and at its best, it can be transformative (Dewey, 1916/1944; Schön, 1983; Rodgers, 2002). Without reflection, experience alone might cause us to ‘reinforce stereotypes…, offer simplistic solutions to complex problems and generalize inaccurately based on limited data’ (Ash & Clayton, 2009, p.26).”

– University of Waterloo, Center for Teaching Excellence

For this course, you will be writing several critical reflections. This is not simply a quick paper where you rattle of what you “think” or “feel” about something you read. It’s purpose is to engage your higher order thinking skills such as those bracketed in the diagram below.

The purpose of this handout is to orient your thinking toward writing a reflection that really carefully considers the topic you are writing about and the readings you have done

Each critical reflection assignment for the course will include question prompts for you to address in your paper. You are expected to respond to each prompt given to you as part of the assignment.



OMEGA, Vol. 64(4) 335-356, 2011-2012





Palo Alto University, California


University of San Francisco, California


Palo Alto University, California


Through the exploration of 12 continuing bonds expressions (CBE), this

current study investigated the grief reaction and continuing impact of the

death of a pet. Thirty-three individuals were interviewed to determine the

degree of connection maintained with the deceased pet and how that affects

their coping. Findings emphasize that the majority of respondents frequently

maintain ongoing meaningful ties with their deceased pet through the use

of CBE such as fond memories, rituals, dreams. The findings suggest that

it is not the number of CBE but the degree of adaptability that is sig-

nificant. The importance of recognizing the unique, total experience of

those grieving the death of a pet is addressed. Implications for those working

with and supporting those in grief are included. Future directions for research

are described.


“With great love comes great grief” (Carmack, 2003, p. 5). The death of a beloved

companion animal induces a grief reaction of comparable severity to the loss of a


� 2012, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.


significant human relationship (Archer, 1997; Carmack, 2003; Clements,

Benasutti, & Carmone, 2003; Cowles, 1985; Field, Orsini, Gavish, & Packman,

2009). “The emotional attachment which many humans develop for their pets . . .

frequently transcends the emotional attachment which they form with humans”

(DeGroot, 1984, p. 283). Indeed, many bereaved pet owners say that they would

rather lose their spouse than their pet (Carmack, 1985).

A large number of individuals (70-80%) describe their pets as family members

or consider pets as children (Cowles, 1985; Toray, 2004). Voith (1985) investi-

gated the potential that humans have for developing strong attachment relation-

ships with pets and found that certain types of attachments that humans developed

with their pets have the quality of a parent-child relationship. Similarly, in a survey

of pet households in North America, Stewart et al. (1989) noted that most people

treated pets as family members; and Carmack (1985) noted that pets are often

talked to as if they were small children, often being referred to as “my baby.”

The death of a pet is experienced in a manner similar to human death in terms

of sleep loss, days missed from work, and other psychological and social diffi-

culties (Quackenbush, 1985). Gerwolls and Labott (1994) assessed whether the

loss of a pet was different from the loss of a human companion (i.e., parent,

spouse, or child). At 2 and 8 weeks post-loss, the grief score (Grief Experiences

Inventory) of those who had lost a pet were similar to those who had lost a

human companion. Moreover, at 8 weeks and 6 months post-loss, there were not

statistically significant differences in grief scores between the two groups. Many

of the specific reactions associated with bereavement following the death of

a significant human relationship have been reported following the loss of a pet

(Archer & Winchester, 1994). Carmack (1985) described several features of

grief: anger, often directed toward the veterinarian; difficulties eating, sleeping,

and concentrating; and avoidance of painful reminders. By way of example,

Carmack reported the case of a woman who slept on a couch downstairs to avoid

the painful reminder of sleeping in her own bed, which she had previously

shared with her cat. Similarly, Weisman (1990/1991) described features of

grief such as preoccupation with thoughts of the pet, and mistaking sounds

and sights for a lost pet.

Weisman (1990/1991) found several common themes among those grieving

a pet. These include anthropomorphism, empathy, regret, and flashbacks as

well as a tendency to view the deceased animal as a primary attachment figure.

From his perspective, the extent of grief may approach clinical proportions,

especially in individuals who “valued their pets more than friends or relatives”

(p. 246). Weisman (1990/1991) concluded that animal bonding is a unique

relationship unlike other relationships and suggested individual and support

group counseling as an effective method for reducing grief symptoms.

Archer and Winchester (1994) used a pet loss questionnaire based on reactions

following human bereavement to study the occurrence of grief following the

death of a pet. They found that following the loss of a pet, there are grief reactions


parallel to those following the death of a human. Over half of the respondents

reported that their initial reactions were numbness and/or disbelief. Greater than

half endorsed preoccupation with thoughts about the pet; and a similar propor-

tion felt that “a part of them had gone” when their pet died (p. 267). Over half

stated that they were drawn towards reminders of their lost pet. About one-fourth

endorsed the urge to search for the pet or stated that they avoided thinking

about the loss or reminders. About one-fourth endorsed anger and negative

affect such as depression and anxiety.


Disenfranchised grief results when a person experiences a grief reaction, yet

there is no social recognition or validation that the person has a right to grieve

or a claim for social support (Doka, 1985, 2008). Unfortunately, the death of a

pet may not be fully recognized or validated by spouses, friends, or acquaintances

as a significant bereavement. The authors propose that pet loss is a form of

disenfranchised grief. As a result, grievers are often isolated and left without

societal support. In the case of pet loss, many people may not perceive the death

of a pet as a cause for intense grief, yet, as shown above, research has demon-

strated strong ties between pets and humans and profound reactions to loss

(Archer & Winchester, 1994; Carmack, 1985, 2003). While it would be con-

sidered inappropriate to tell a new widower to find another wife, “urging a

bereaved pet owner to get a new pet immediately is almost commonplace”

(Podrazik, Shackford, Becker, & Heckert, 2000, p. 376). Indeed, statements

such as “He was just a cat” or “You can always get another one” add to the

isolation and distress many bereaved people experience (Toray, 2004).



There has been increasing attention in the bereavement literature focusing on

the function of a “continuing bond” in relation to coping (Field & Friedrichs,

2004; Field, Gao, & Paderna, 2005; Stroebe, Gergen, Gergen, & Stroebe, 1992)

and adaptation following the death of a loved one (Klass, Silverman, & Nickman,

1996). It is now generally accepted that despite the permanence of physical

separation, the bereaved can be emotionally sustained through a continuing

bond to the deceased (Field, Nichols, Holen, & Horowitz, 1999). Thus, resolving

grief does not involve ending a relationship (detachment), but instead involves

a reorganization of the relationship with the deceased (Field, 2008).

The phenomenon of continuing bonds has only recently been labeled as

such in the pet bereavement literature (Carmack & Packman, 2011; Packman,

Field, Carmack, & Ronen, 2011). Previously, similar concepts were described in

relation to pet loss (Carmack, 2003; Cowles, 1985; Podrazik et al., 2000) though


not labeled continuing bonds per se. For example, in Cowles’ (1985) study,

she reported that bereaved pet owners experienced an ongoing attachment with

their deceased pet in several ways. First, memories of the deceased pet were

reported by all participants. The memories of the deceased pet were, at first,

very painful but most owners eventually derived comfort from recalling “special

times” with their pet. A second common response was an unconscious attempt

to locate the pet (i.e., searching behavior). Third, the majority of participants

retained special items as remembrances of their deceased pet (collars, food

dishes, blankets, and favorite toys).

Carmack (2003) found that several clients described illusory phenomenon

in which they actually seemed to hear or feel the presence of their deceased pet.

Podrazik et al. (2000) described the importance of rituals as a way to continue

a connection with a deceased pet. Rituals such as planting a tree can serve to

“unite and mold the significance of the deceased within their life.” By using

such rituals, the attachment bonds can be reworked to transform the deceased

pet into an internal representation that is based on meaning, memory, or emo-

tional connection.

In this article, the authors demonstrate how the “continuing bonds” concept

applies to the human-pet relationship and describe the unique, ongoing relation-

ships and bonds formed by bereaved pet owners following pet loss.


The Study

The current study investigated the grief reactions and continuing impact of

the loss of a pet on bereaved pet owners. The Continuing Bonds Interview (CBI)

of Field, Packman, and Carmack (2007) was used to evaluate the degree of

connection that the bereaved maintains with the deceased pet and how that bond

affects functioning. This interview-based CB measure is designed to investigate

the different facets of CB and goes well beyond simply assessing extent of CB

usage to distinguish whether the CB expressions are indicative of poor adjustment

versus successful adaptation to the loss (Field, 2008). Although CB with the

deceased can serve to facilitate and enrich the grieving process, CB may also

be expressed in a maladaptive way (Field et al., 2005; Hsu, 2007). We describe

how the bereaved preserve and maintain an ongoing attachment to the deceased

and the extent to which they are able to use continuing bonds expressions for

emotional regulation in coping with the loss of a pet.

Participants and Procedures

Participants were required to be at least 18 years of age and must have lost a

pet through death within 12 months from the date of data collection. A total of 33

individuals between the ages 25 and 79 (average age of 45.57 years) participated


in the study. The sample included 27 females and 6 males; 81.8% (n = 27) of the

sample were Caucasian. Of the total sample, 57.6% (n = 19) lost their dogs, while

42.4% (n = 14) lost their cats. The deceased pet’s age ranged from 3 to 20 years

with an average age of 12.79 years. The majority of participants (69.7%; n = 23)

lost their pets due to major illness (see Table 1). The participants’ own description

of their relationship to their deceased pet is provided in Table 2. As detailed in

Table 3, the participants’ reported highest sources of support were pets followed

by spouses/partners.

Potential participants were solicited through the distribution of flyers at

various locations such as veterinary clinics, family centers, practicum and intern-

ship sites, and at a pet loss support group. Research packets were sent to indi-

viduals who were willing to participate and who met the eligibility criteria. The

packet consisted of an introductory letter, instructional sheet, informed consent,

and standardized objective measures. After returning the completed packet to the

investigators, participants were contacted to schedule an interview. The interview

consisted of a demographic questionnaire followed by a semi-structured clinical

Continuing Bonds Interview (CBI). All of the interviews were audio taped and

transcribed. Prior to the onset of the study, the protocol was approved by the

Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Palo Alto University.


Use of Continuing Bonds Expressions

In these next sections, we describe how bereaved pet owners maintain an

ongoing attachment to their deceased pet and the extent to which they use CB

expressions in coping with the loss of their pet. We investigated the different

facets of CB and asked participants whether they had any of the following


1. sensing the presence and a continuing connection with their deceased pet;

2. thinking they heard or felt their pet’s sounds or movements (i.e., intrusive


3. talking to their deceased pet;

4. recalling fond memories;

5. dreaming of the pet;

6. holding onto or using special belongings of their pet in order to feel close;

7. creating memorials, shrines, or attending special events in tribute to their

deceased pet;

8. being drawn to places associated with their deceased pet;

9. learning lessons from their pet;

10. being influenced by the pet in making everyday decisions and choices;

11. attempting to carry out or live up to their deceased pet’s wishes; and

12. having thoughts of being reunited with their pet.



Table 1. Demographic and Background Information (n = 33)

Mean Range

Age of participant at time of interview Age of pet at death

45.57 12.79

25-79 3-20

Frequency Percent

Gender Male Female

Type of pet Dog Cat

Marital relationship Single Married/Partnered Divorced

Highest level of education High school College Graduate school

Racial/ethnic background Latino Caucasian Asian/Pacific Islander Wiccan Other

Household total yearly income Less than $25,000 $25,000–$49,000 $50,000–$74,999 $75,000–$100,000 More than $100,000

Cause of death (more than one selection possible) Natural anticipated cause (e.g., old age) Unexpected cause Major disease (e.g., cancer) Other

6 27

19 14

13 15 5

2 13 18

2 27 1 1 2

5 6 5 7


9 5

23 7

18.2 81.8

57.6 42.4

39.4 45.5 15.2

6.1 39.4 54.5

6.1 81.8 3.0 3.0 6.1

15.2 18.2 15.2 21.2 30.3

27.3 15.2 70.0 21.2


Table 3. Sources of Support

Question: Rate (1-5 scale) each one of the sources of support from whom, if

anyone, you have received help.

Variable n M SD



Support group


Other bereaved pet owners





God/Supreme being

Work colleagues

Clergy, minister, rabbi

Family physician








































Table 2. Relationship to Pet Who Died

Question: How would you describe your relationship to the pet who died? Please check all that apply.

Relationship Frequency Percent

Parental (e.g., mom, dad)

Best friend

Partner/significant other/soul mate

Other: protector, assistance dog, family member, sister, mentor









Note: Participants could choose more than one response which explains why the sum of the percentages is greater than 100%.

If the participant endorsed CB expressions, they were asked to describe and rate if

the experience was comforting, distressing, or both comforting and distressing.

Sense of Presence and Intrusive Symptoms

Respondents were asked if they had a sense of their pet’s presence or spirit

coming back, being with the person, comforting or guiding the person. Of the 33

interviews, 22 participants (67%) reported a sense of their animal’s presence after

death. For some this occurred within the first month after the death of the pet.

For others it came later, while for others it was a continuous experience extending

from the time immediately after death up to the time of the interview. Responses

ranged from a subjective sense of presence to actually seeing and/or hearing one’s

pet. The subjective sense of presence was described by one young woman:

When I volunteer at animal shelters and mobile vans, it has felt like she

(my dog) is looking down at me and I have a vision of her—she is there.

When I am teaching kids at camp, I feel her. It is a sense of gratitude I have

that she is there.

Another woman talked about the sense of presence of her dog Hannah, as a spirit

coming back to comfort and guide her:

I noticed a week after Hannah died that my heart was closing up. My heart

was so open and big and huge the last week of my dog’s death . . . it was

an amazing experience. I felt so open-hearted and the next week I felt my

heart was shriveling. I noticed after I had taken a new dog home, a week

later, (as a foster parent) that my heart felt more open. Then, I took my

new dog camping and I decided that I would pray to Hannah and to St. Francis

and whatever they told me to do I would do to decide whether to adopt the

dog or take him back to the rescue organization. I went on a long hike

and I was sobbing for miles and talking to Hannah and saying “I don’t

know how you can expect me to love another dog.” I didn’t know what

to do. Then, this image came to me of my heart with a crack down the

middle and the new dog standing in the little crack. I decided that is my

answer. I have to adopt because he is standing in the crack helping to heal

my heart and keep it open.

On the other hand those respondents who actually thought they saw or heard

the pet described it in terms of, “I really thought she was there . . . like I thought

I saw her sitting on the floor or something and I’d come back in the room and

know she’s not there.” Another respondent stated, “yeah, I’ve had a sense of his

presence from . . . ever since the day he passed. But I saw him in the flesh,

physically last week . . . here in the house. But I’ve felt him when I’m laying down

here at night . . . many, many, many times.” A 29-year-old woman mentioned that

another of her cats also sensed the presence of the deceased cat.

Eighteen participants (55%) reported experiencing intrusive symptoms (i.e.,

thinking they heard or felt their pet’s sound or movement). As would be expected,


there was overlap between respondents’ descriptions of the experiencing of their

deceased animal’s presence and the perception of intrusive symptoms. Some

respondents denied feeling their pet’s presence but acknowledged hearing or

feeling their pet’s sounds and movements. For example, one respondent denied

having felt her dog’s presence but acknowledged that during the first month after

death she felt she mistook her dog for another:

I would go in the park and then see a tail, or I would walk around the corner

and see a tail, and I would follow the dog. I actually thought for some

reason I had lost him or something, like he was still around. That was the

first month but not any more.

Talking to Deceased Pet

Respondents were asked if they continued to talk to their deceased pet and

if they felt that the pet was actually there and aware of what the respondent

was saying. A majority of respondents, 25 out of 33 (76%), indicated that they

continued to talk to their beloved animal companion. A few respondents talked

to their pets as if they were still here saying things like “good morning, good

night, and hey, love you little guy.” Many others reported that they tell their

deceased pet how much they deeply miss them—“I miss you . . . I wish you

were here. You would like this or you were a good dog.” The majority of

respondents did not think that their pet was aware of what the pet owner was

saying. However, some participants were not certain if their pets were aware but

hoped that they were. One participant longed for acknowledgment from her pet:

“I miss you . . . please come and see me or please give me a sign.”

As part of this construct, respondents were asked if they experienced a sense

of unfinished business (e.g., regrets, self-blame, guilt). Seventeen out of 33

participants (52%) described regrets they had about not spending enough time

with their pets or wishing that they had “taken them to the vet earlier” or “provided

better food” or better “medical care” so their pets may have lived longer.

One respondent stated: “I’m sorry I did this to you. I regretted staying too long

at school when he had a seizure.” Another respondent “begged for her cat’s

forgiveness. This little thing was left in my care and I just really feel like I

failed her. She shouldn’t be dead.” Another respondent mentioned “being angry

at God” because his cat was taken from him.

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