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How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet by Morieka Johnson MNN.com April 26, 2011
"I've spent 20 years in the mental health field and I saw a dearth of these services," she says. "I'm also an animal lover and I had a euthanasia experience with a beloved cat. I wanted help, but could not find a counselor in Georgia that specialized in this."
To expand her private practice and help other pet owners, Simpson is studying to be a pet loss counselor through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. Psychologist Dr. Wallace Sife, author of "The Loss of a Pet," founded the organization and runs the certification program, which explains how people grieve the loss of a pet.
"For the most part, the stages are similar; you deal with shock and denial, anger and distancing, guilt, depression," Simpson says. "But the final stage is not closure, it is resolution. You grieve and want to move forward in a way that memorializes them."
She also notes that everyone handles the loss differently. For many, the grief can be more acute when a pet has been euthanized.
MNN: When a friend's dog dies, should you send flowers?
My friend William of Atlanta felt guilty at the very thought of having his dog, Jerome, euthanized -- even as he watched his faithful companion of 12 years endure a dramatic, two-year decline.
"He had given me a lot of joy for many years, and I owed Jerome when he was not at his best. I was paying him back for all the good years," William said of the decision not to euthanize. (William asked that only his first name be used for privacy reasons.)
William and his partner witnessed Jerome becoming more fragile. A dog that never soiled his bedding suddenly had accidents on a daily basis. At night, Jerome paced the hardwood floors nonstop. He had to be carried up the outdoor steps. But on nice days, Jerome seemed happy sunbathing on the porch. William and his partner adjusted to the new normal -- until someone slipped a note under their door.
"It said, 'Put the dog out of his misery,'" William says. "I booked an appointment the next day. We thought we were sacrificing for Jerome for being so good to us, but we didn't have the guts to do what he needed us to do."
MNN: When is the right time to say goodbye to an ailing pet?
If you are suffering with the loss of a pet, here are some tools to find relief.
Find a support group
The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement offers a list of pet bereavement support groups in several states. Most humane societies also offer group sessions. Psychotherapist Marcia Breitenbach recommends this approach because it allows pet owners to see that they are not alone. If your community does not have a pet grief group, she suggests attending bereavement group sessions, which typically are offered at churches or hospitals.
Give yourself permission to grieve
Even if others do not understand the loss, Breitenbach and Simpson say that it's important to take time to grieve.
"One of the things that astounds me is when people say, 'It's just a cat, you can get another one.' But they would never say at a funeral, to a widow, 'there's more fish in the sea,'" says Breitenbach. "It's hilarious to think about that, and yet we do say that to someone who lost a family member -- they just happened to be furry or feathered or slithery or whatever."
MNN: Do animals mourn the loss of a loved one?
Ask loved ones for space to heal
Feelings of guilt and isolation can fester if loved ones are not supportive. Breitenbach notes that many mates are simply uncomfortable with their partner's grief.
"They want it to go away and they want it like it used to be," she says.
Be honest with your employer
If the grieving process extends to the workplace, Breitenbach suggests open communication with supervisors. It helps to be specific about what you need. It might be as simple as saying that you may need a bathroom break to have a good cry, or it may be that you will have a funeral tomorrow and would like time off.
Use the loss as a teaching opportunity for kids
Most children under the age of 5 do not have a real concept of death, so the loss can be a teaching opportunity. Simpson recommends that children be part of the grieving process, as long as it is age-appropriate. That may mean allowing children to participate in the burial or help select a memorial.
"So many of us want to shelter our children from suffering," she says. "They know what's going on. When you let them say goodbye to the remains, you normalize grief in general."
Step out -- even if it hurts
Breitenbach suggests enrolling in activities that you could not pursue when you had a pet. Try a new cooking class or continuing education course that takes you out of the house at least once a week.
In time, consider another pet
Simpson says that you will know when it's time to adopt another pet. To avoid feeling disloyal to your deceased pet, she suggests approaching the process slowly. Visit an animal shelter or a foster organization, but don't commit.
"It's a subjective feeling," she says. "Most of us know when it's time to go back out there. You can't push. "
© Copyright 2010 Mother Nature Network
The Rainbow Bridge: Comforting Pet Owner's Coping with a Pet's Death by Jo Singer
The Rainbow Bridge helps many cope after the death of a beloved cat or dog.
No words can convey our heartbreak when we lose a beloved pet. Since our fur-kids are family members, it can be very difficult to cope with a cat or dog's death. So years ago, when I discovered the "Rainbow Bridge,” it gave me great comfort to think that in the future I would be reunited with all the incredible animals with whom I have shared my life.
Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine (who owns a feline-only veterinary practice) to write a feline oriented Rainbow Bridge poem to share with her clients when they lost a beloved kitty. We both agreed that while the original poem offers comfort to many people, cat behavior is really totally different than that of dogs, and therefore deserved a separate poem. This is the poem dedicated to those who have lost a cat:
When a kitty gives you their heart without reservation, loving you unconditionally, looking up at you with deeply devoted trust, a unique bond forms and you are truly blessed.
Yet, at the same time, the profound joy that such tender love brings is not without risk; the exact moment you open to that precious gift, sadly you must ultimately open to deep sorrow when your beloved cat dies.
But there is comfort in the thought that one day, when it's time, you will once again be reunited with the beautiful cat you adored and still so deeply miss. You see, there is a special place in Heaven where you will once again be able to hold your kitty in your arms, feel the tender touch of their gentle paw on your cheek, and rejoice in the familiar sounds of their contented purr.
This special part of Heaven, which many folks call the "Rainbow Bridge,” is filled with such an abundance of light and healing energy, restoring all cats to radiant health and vigor. Those who were old or sick no longer suffer. Cats who were injured or maimed are made whole and strong again.
At this magnificent place, your beautiful kitty basks in the brilliant warm sunshine, enjoying bountiful food and fresh clean water. Afternoons are spent curling up for a nap, or romping and playing in the lush green grass with all their new friends that share this special place in Heaven.
Your adorable kitty is content and not lonely, but something very important is missing. Cats truly miss their special person who was left behind, who is still thinking about them because they were so deeply loved.
But one day while your beloved cat is leaping in the air chasing butterflies or stalking through the grass pouncing on frogs, in a truly miraculous moment, your cat suddenly sees you approaching from the distance. Your cat's body quivers with delight; whiskers bristling forward, tail straight up in the air. You hear your kitty's excited and welcoming mews that let you know how glorious it is to be in your company again.
You will smile with delight as you both leisurely stroll side by side, your cat purring loudly, rubbing happily up against your legs, knowing that nothing will ever separate the two of you again; you are forever together at this special place, the Rainbow Bridge.
This was written in memory of our beloved Siamese cat, Mousie Tongue.
What comforted you the most following the death of a beloved pet? Please share your experiences in a comment.
Jo Singer Shortly after retiring as a social worker and psychotherapist, I discovered my "writer's voice"…