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Dealing With the Loss of a Pet
by Stephanie Jones, Center for Specialized Veterinary Care

The following resources may be helpful in dealing with the loss of a pet.
Features a "Monday Night Candle Ceremony" Rainbow Bridge story area, stories and poems, grief support chat room, links to other online resources, pet memorial pages.
Links to other resources Create your own online pet memorial page.
The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement features a chat room.
Information on hospice alternative and care.
Pet loss and bereavement information.

   Adult Books:
   Anderson, Moria: Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet
   Cohen etal: Euthanasia of the Companion Animal
   Kosins: Maya's First Rose
   Lagoni: The Human-Animal Bond and Grief
   LeMieux:: Coping With the Loss of a Pet
   Montgomery: A Final Act of Caring and goodbye, My Friend
   Nieburg, Herbert: Pet Loss: A Helpful Guide for Adults and Children
   Quakenbush, Jamie: When Your Pet Dies: How to Cope With Your Feelings
   Rosenburg, Marc: Companion Animal Loss and Pet Owner Grief
   Sife: Loss of a Pet
   Townsend, Irving: Separate Lifetimes
   Books for Children:
   Rogers, Fred: When a Pet Dies
   Viorst, Judith: The Second Good Thing About Barney
   Wilheim, Hans: I Will Always Love You

Hartsdale Pet Cemetary

As a grief counselor with a large specialty care animal hospital here in New York, I listen to the pain of older people, younger people, females and, yes, a large number of men who are mourning the loss of a beloved pet. They come from all walks of life: white collar, blue collar, artist and professional.

This isn't surprising; every being grieves, grief doesn't discriminate. It is the emotional response to loss, and its expressions are as unique as the individuals who express it. There is no set time for a person to get through the grief process; it varies from person to person, from loss to loss. People may mourn the loss of dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, horses, turtles, and reptiles. Little children may experience all or various stages of grief over the loss of their goldfish or hamster. The same goldfish or hamster they shared their stories with everyday from the bully at school to the nervousness of a spelling bee.

But while friends, family and co-workers may understand grief over the loss of a person dear to you, they may not be as understanding of your mourning of a pet. Pet loss is not widely discussed in public or even professional circles.
'It's only a dog,
get over it
and get back to work.'
Many people are afraid to share their emotions or talk about the loss of a pet due to the lack of sympathy or support they receive from society, causing them to experience "disenfranchised grief." This kind of grief is the type that a person experiences when they are coping with a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported. Because the person suffering from the loss has little or no opportunity to mourn publicly, this may exacerbate the stages of grief. For example, one client in my group who was having a hard time dealing with the loss of her pet was told by her boss "It's only a dog! Get over it and get back to work!"

Learning First Hand

Though I didn't know it at the time, the loss of my own beloved Lab mix, my baby girl Seacay, prepared me to be a grief counselor in ways I'd never imagined. Losing her to cancer two years ago left me emotionally, physically and mentally drained. I slept, cried, and stared at the wall. People I considered my friends quickly faded out of my life. For fear of not knowing what to say, or being in an uncomfortable situation, I was abruptly left alone. People would say things that they thought would make me fell better: "At least you have another dog," "Now you can travel," Now you don't have to worry about dog hair everywhere." Instead, they sent me in a downward spiral

The pain of losing Seacay, compounded with the lack of sympathy over losing her was unbearable and indescribable. There is a void, a pit in your stomach and a pain in your heart that weighs down your soul. I changed in ways I can explain and in ways that I cannot. My whole life was turned upside down. I stopped answering the phone, answering the door and started questioning the existence of everything including myself. My mind was spinning endlessly with unanswered questions.

Finding Support

Humans may not have understood, but Auggie, Seacay's adopted brother, was by my side the whole time. If it wasn't for him, I am not sure what would have happened. We grieved together. He let me sleep on his belly, talk to him and cry in his fur. He was and still is my rock. The interesting lesson I learned was that he also needed me. Both of us were with Seacay when she was euthanized. He slept more and didn't eat as much. He knew what was going on. I often heard him howl, baying like a sad lone wolf at the moon, a griever's howl. I had never heard him do that before in the 12 years he has been with me.

It was then that I learned firsthand that animals grieve, too, and that he needed me as much as I needed him. Again, this is something that many people around me just couldn't understand.

Those that do not understand the bond that can form between people and their pets may make insensitive comments. Not everyone in the world has had the opportunity to share the unconditional love many of us who have shared our lives with pets experience. Fortunately, however, there are millions more people who do understand why someone would grieve over the loss of a pet, and there are increasing numbers of books, hotlines and web pages dedicated to support and grieving as well as professionals offering individual and group support.

The joy and happiness of sharing your life and home with a pet far exceeds the pain and grief one goes through during the hard years of dealing with pet loss. Much like losing anyone dear to us, the pain eventually gives way to the lessons, memories and spirit they have given us during their lives on earth, and make us better for having shared our lives with them.


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Most recent update: 9/21/06
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