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Where do you turn when your beloved pet dies?

By Kathy Antoniotti
Akron Beacon Journal

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  • Pet grief hotline

    Contact C.A.R.E. (Companion Animal Related Emotions Pet Loss Helpline), a confidential telephone service offered through the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 877-394-CARE (2273). For more information, visit http://vetmed.illinois.edu/CARE/grief.html.



Grief is keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret, according to dictionary.com.

In my circle of friends, there is almost always someone who is grieving over the death of a well-loved pet.

Indeed, most of us have lost at least one dog, cat, hamster or guinea pig that we have been inordinately attached to.

Just this year, as many as five of my friends have had a cat or dog pass over the Rainbow Bridge.

And each one asks: “How do I cope with losing my best friend, one that has been with me through thick and thin? One who loves me even when I can’t stand myself?”

Remember that someone who has never had a animal/human relationship won’t understand your pain. Don’t allow them to diminish your grief. Statements such as “It’s only a cat” or “You can get another one” only make you feel more lonely. Mental health experts understand that your grief is your own and no one else can tell you how to feel.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine advises that when a person has little or no support to deal with the loss of a pet, the grief and mourning can feel overwhelming and isolating.

“The human-animal bond represents the types of relationships we have with our companion animals. We form these relationships for many reasons: physical, social, emotional and psychological,” according to a report from the school’s Specialty Care Services titled “Pet Loss and Bereavement Information for Pet Owners.”

Last week, one of my friends lost her companion of 10 years. She wrote about Jake’s death on a blog, giving all her friends and associates in animal rescue the opportunity to express their sorrow for her loss.

Another friend told me she received more sympathy cards after her beloved Labrador retriever, Caleb, died than she did following her mother’s death.

Perhaps as a group we are more fortunate than most to have the support of friends who share an understanding of the depth of feeling we have for our pets when that bond is broken.

So what does the average person do?

Authors Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, PhD., and Robert Segal writing for Helpguide.org, a nonprofit resource for supporting better mental health, offer this advice:

• Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel and don’t tell yourself how you should feel.

• Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check online message boards, pet loss hotlines and pet loss support groups.

• Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express feelings.

• Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Eat healthy foods, get lots of sleep and exercise to release endorphins to lift your mood.

The loss of a companion animal may be doubly debilitating for seniors. These methods can help with getting past the grief:

• Try to find new meaning and joy in life. Fill the time you would normally give your pet with volunteering, picking up a long-neglected hobby, taking a class or helping friends care for their pets.

• Stay connected with friends. Pets often help seniors meet new people and regularly connect with friends and neighbors on walks. Try to spend time with at least one person every day to help ward off depression.

• Boost vitality with exercise. Staying active can help boost the immune system and increase energy.

Finally, is it always a good idea to immediately go out and get a new pet after the loss of a well-loved one?

Well, as much as I love saying “Puppies heal the heart,” the answer is a personal one that only you can make for yourself.

In most cases, it’s best to mourn the old pet first and wait until you’re emotionally ready to open your heart to a new animal.

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