Tuesday, March 2, 2010


When a pet dies, don't bury your grief. Better to reach out to family, friends, your vet or a bereavement group

Warren Tasker, Edmonton Journal Published: Friday, February 26

Many people refuse to discuss the death of their pet because the pain is unbearable. They want to keep quiet about it, hoping the sadness will dissipate over time.

Perhaps, if it were discussed more openly, they could navigate through the pain and sorrow a little better. They would understand their situation more clearly and speed the healing process.

When my dog Pinball died in 2009, all I could do was talk about her. It made me feel better. The more I thought about her, the happier I was. Sadness was close by as well, but so were family members and friends. To this day, when I speak of her, I laugh and weep; the two go hand in hand, and it will always be that way. But that's OK. I understand that bittersweet feeling.

Talking about the loss of a pet and crying are essential to grief and healing, says Dr. Eunice Johannson, a psychologist who grew up on a farm in Wadena, Sask., surrounded by all sorts of animals she loved, and who has worked extensively with the Pet Therapy Society of northern Alberta.

"It is not only OK to cry as you grieve, it is an important part of the emotional healing process. You honour the unique character of your pet by expressing your feelings.

"It is often very helpful to express your grief and work through your feelings by talking to people who are empathetic. They might include your veterinarian, family members, friends, colleagues at work and someone in the religious community."

Johannson adds that eating properly, staying fit and getting enough rest are essential during bereavement.

Common sense also dictates that seeking comfort from someone who isn't fond of critters is not a good idea. Pick your spots logically, she says.

If talking to friends and family members isn't enough, Johannson suggests contacting a social worker, a psychologist or even a pet bereavement support group, such as the Pet Therapy Society. The group holds a grief support meeting the first Tuesday of every month and also has a pet loss support line that can be reached at 780-418-1949.
Planting a tree in honour of a cherished pet or creating a photo album or scrapbook are other ways to work through grief, says Johannson, who is in the early stages of setting up her own pet bereavement support group. "There can be healing in the tears, conversations and even laughter as an album is put together, and later reviewed.

"Some people find comfort by having a special area in their home that might have a treasured photo of their pet."

Don't deny your thoughts and feelings of sorrow, or try to escape them by using drugs or alcohol, Johannson says. This only worsens the state of denial.

"Sometimes people spend more hours at work or otherwise involve themselves in a busy schedule in order to get over the emotions of grieving. Don't isolate your feelings or yourself."

Years of study have established that grieving comes in stages, from denial to anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance, Johannson says. "In my experiences, it is more of a process of a person moving in and out of these different stages.

So, in attending a support group, a person might learn about what the grieving process is and find affirmation that it is normal to grieve the loss of a pet. The opportunities to share your stories, hear other stories and gain support also arise."

Equally important, Johannson says, is a solid relationship with your veterinarian.

I couldn't agree more. My veterinarian, Dr. Ted Purcell, was my captain when Pinball died last year. He steered me through rough waters with professionalism, compassion and his love for my dog. I couldn't have made it without him. He wept openly that sad day.

Pinball was the third dog I have put down this week," he said after she had left us.

Following Pinball's death, I didn't want to wallow in the mire. I had to take action. I found a new dog right away, days after Pinball's death. My new puppy, Ruby, now a 70-pound lapdog capable of leaping tall couches in a single bound, was just what I needed. My family embraced her immediately.

Sometimes, when I take her for a walk, she'll pause for no reason at all and look back at me, just the way Pinball did. She's in there, somewhere. Her spirit. Something. I don't know exactly. But I can see Pinball through Ruby's eyes, and that's a gift that will never leave me.




Hermitage Veterinary Hospital and other clinics around the city offer various services to help clients cope with the death of a pet, such as:

- -Referrals to crematoriums and other organizations which provide memorial services

- -A paw imprint cast in clay

- -House calls, for those who are reluctant to have their pet put down at the clinic

- -Sympathy cards, memorial rock gardens, or wallet cards and Christmas decorations featuring the pet's photo

- -Referral to the pet loss support line: 780-418-1949

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