Grief Counseling For Pet Owners
Support Groups Discuss the Loss of Pets
In Portland, Ore., Dove Lewis Animal Hospital holds weekly sessions where mourning owners share pictures and stories of their late pets. In North Miami Beach, Fla., the local Humane Society offers one-on-one therapy to those who can’t attend any of their five monthly support groups. And at Pet Partners in Bristol, Va., pets grieving the loss of their owners are welcome additions to group sessions.
As more pet-based organizations educate owners on caring for pets during their lifetime, they’re becoming aware of the significance of offering services to help them deal with their death, too. The results are more pet loss support groups, hotlines and even chat rooms popping up in cities across the country.
It’s OK to Grieve
Attending a support group affords pet owners the opportunity to express anguish and learn coping techniques in a safe, judgment-free setting.
While pets are recognized as significant companions in life, the necessity to mourn their loss isn’t always taken seriously by others. Dr. Judith C. Stutts says owners often experience what she calls “closet grief.”
“Give yourself permission to grieve,” she says. “It’s OK to grieve something you’ve lost: a job, a marriage, a pet.”
Dr. Stutts, who specializes in pet bereavement counseling in Asheboro, N.C., is a licensed member of the American Counseling Association and the American Association of the Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians.
She says grieving can go on as long as necessary, and is not done on someone else’s schedule. It’s a good idea to write feelings down and, if you chose, cry. Don’t force or let anyone else force a new pet into your life. You can’t replace one pet with another.
Keep in mind, she says, that circumstances can make the loss of a pet even more devastating; for example, people who live alone or are in poor health might have a more difficult time.
What Should You Expect at a Grief Session?
Owners are often encouraged to bring photos of their pets as well as toys and collars. There’s also the opportunity to share pet stories.
Others coping with the difficult circumstances surrounding their pet’s death may wish to share those stories, too.
Find a Group or a Phone
Dr. Stutts recommends that people join groups run by either a veterinarian or someone trained in pet grief and loss issues.
Here are ideas for finding support groups, grief support hotlines and chat rooms:
- The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., offers scheduled chat rooms led by experienced moderators on pet loss and anticipatory bereavement.
- Find information on counseling services by Dr. Judith C. Stutts.
- At House Rabbit Society there are lists of a number of veterinary schools that sponsor pet support hotlines and grief counseling.
- Dr. Betty Carmack’s, an associate professor at the University of San Francisco, California, began offering counseling services at the San Francisco SPCA after her dog suddenly died. Listen to her podcast.
- Find lists of pet loss support groups across the country go to Delta Society or petloss.com.