605 Cherry St. Suite 320, Belton, MO 64012
(816) 226-4678

Pet Loss: It’s More than “Just a Pet”

If you are a pet person like me, you have probably experienced the heart-break of having a pet cross the rainbow bridge. Have you felt pressure to keep your grief to yourself? Worse, have you had people mock your grief or put it down because “it’s just a ___(dog/gerbil/cat, etc.)?”

For most people who have pets, the pet is not a piece of furniture; rather, the pet is a beloved member of the family. But the death of a pet often isn’t treated by others as being as important as the loss of a family member. There is a common perception, perhaps most common among people who do not have pets, that relationships with pets are less valuable than those with people. This lack of social support for the death of a pet can turn into what therapists call “disenfranchised grief.” This is grief which is effectively invisible and unsupported by the surrounding community. At best, you might get support for a week or two, yet grief for a beloved pet can last as long as for the death of a person. In this situation, then, the bereaved person has the double burden of grief and a feeling of isolation from others or a feeling that they must keep their grief to themselves. The bereaved person may also feel that something is wrong with themselves, to still be struggling with the raw emotions of grief when the rest of the world expects them to have moved on already and they might be embarrassed that they haven’t “gotten over it.”

I am a dog person. Two years ago this coming August, my beloved dog, Thor, had to be euthanized because of a neurodegenerative disease which was slowly suffocating him. I had three dogs at the time (a beagle, Fenris; a true mystery combination that we think is part great Dane and part black lab named Gunnar; and Thor, an Akita-collie mix). Thor was a year old when we adopted him from the shelter and we were fortunate to have 11 years with him. I have been blessed with wonderful dogs in my life but Thor was something uniquely special to me. Even now, I still occasionally have the waves of grief wash over me, although they happen more infrequently as time passes.

Your grief for your pet is a tribute to your pet and the bond that you had together. It honors the love between you. Pets give us so much, including improved mental and physical health. And the death of a pet can result in damage to our mental or physical health. The death of a pet can, in extreme cases, even lead to “broken heart syndrome” [link https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/Cardiomyopathy/Is-Broken-Heart-Syndrome-Real_UCM_448547_Article.jsp ] which can feel like a heart attack and causes actual damage to your heart muscle. Conversely, sharing your grief in a supportive place can ease the stress of your loss and promote the healing process.

If you would like a safe and supportive place to share your grief with other pet lovers and to journey from grief to healing, I invite you to join my twice-a-month pet grief support group. This is a place where you can process your grief, cry freely if you feel moved to do so, and hopefully find some laughter in happy memories of your special animal friend. It makes no difference if your pet was a parakeet, a gerbil, a sugar-glider, or something else—you are welcome to join us. In addition to the support, it is my intention to provide some piece of grief therapy at each meeting, to help attendees in their journey through grief. The goal is not to “get over” or forget beloved pets, but to move them to a place in our hearts where they can stay with us forever. There is a $15 charge for each meeting.

Our pet grief support group meets from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. on the following Mondays:

June 18

July 9

July 23

August 13

August 27

September 10th

September 24th

October 8th

October 22nd

November 5th

November 19th

December 3

December 17th

January 7, 2019

January 21, 2019

I’m asking people to register for the June 18th meeting so I will know how many to expect and prepare for. To register, you can contact me by phone at (816) 226-4678 or by email alicia.polk@vitaliscounseling.com.

If you have a moment, I would very much like to know your thoughts on this support group. What would be most helpful to you if you choose to attend? Have you felt like you had to keep your grief hidden or pretend it’s not there? I’d like to hear about your experiences if you are willing to share.

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