By JOE LISELLA
Working in animal welfare, rarely a week goes by that I don’t hear about the loss of a pet from a staff member, volunteer, friend or family member. And needless to say, there are those sad times in my own life when I’ve lost a pet.
Grief over a pet is never the same for everyone, and in my experience it’s even different for each pet. It is the mechanism for finding peace when you’ve lost someone you love — both human and animal.
In 2011, we had two Labrador retrievers, Jack and Henry. Jack was 14 and had been medicated for half his life for arthritis. For many months he’d had us on the roller coaster of bad days and rallying to good days, but his bad days were far outnumbering his good, so after several canceled appointments we had him euthanized and held him while the medication put him to rest. We (eventually) smiled, knowing we’d given him a good life, and felt relief that he wouldn’t suffer any more. We have never second-guessed that decision.
Our other Lab was Henry, who was about nine years younger. Henry was a crazy dog who, the minute he got out of the house, would be running, jumping, swimming, fetching and exuberantly participating in any activity he could find. I remember throwing a tennis ball off the end of a dock in the San Francisco Bay, and he would run and leap more than 20 feet into the water. He was so full of life!
About a year after we euthanized Jack we took a vacation. We left 6-year-old Henry in the care of a house/dog sitter who came highly recommended. The sitter called and said that Henry was acting lethargic one morning, and I asked him to take him to the emergency vet. Henry was gone by the time he arrived.
For months afterward I couldn’t stop blaming myself. I would have/should have seen something. If I’d been there this wouldn’t have happened. It didn’t make sense to me because we’d had Jack for 14 years — how could I feel so much worse about losing Henry, who we’d only had for six?
For both humans and animals in our lives, it is surprising how differently the losses can affect us.
I like to think of grief as the process that breaks us, then heals us. Grief is simply love with nowhere to go, and each person will experience it in their own way and in their own time. There is no “right” way to grieve.
While some people may view your grief as trivial (“it was just a cat”), I encourage you to share your loss with like-minded people who have experienced a similar loss.
If despite your best efforts you find yourself struggling over the loss of a pet, the Animal Protective Foundation hosts a free Pet Bereavement Support Group every third Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. The group is led by Estelle Giles-Monroe, MSW, LCSWR.
This support group is made possible by the generosity of Dr. Roger Blankfein, owner of In the Comfort of Home, an in-home pet euthanasia service in the Capital Region.
For information, email [email protected] or phone 518-374-3944.
Joe Lisella, CAWA, is executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation. APF contributes Animal Chronicles articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Visit animalprotective.org, follow us on social media @AnimalProtectiveFoundation or email [email protected]