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Home > Pet News and Articles > Go Ahead and Grieve

Go Ahead and Grieve
Article By: Glenn Redmond

While living in Ottawa in the early nineties, I decided to adopt a dog from a local shelter. I was 24, settling down a bit from a restless youth and felt a dog would fit nicely into my lifestyle. After all, most of my friends had dogs that were constant fixtures on hikes and cottage trips. Dinner parties and get-togethers always extended invitations to well behaved pets and dogs were welcomed at my workplace. I worked long shifts as a behavioral therapist which often afforded me the luxury of three or four days off in a row.

Never one to lay idle, I had a gardening business on the side, picking up odd jobs for spring cleanups and summer maintenance. Zak, the coyote looking husky/shepherd cross, fit perfectly into this mix.

Life was good and Zak pretty much came with me wherever I went. A year later, the demand for my gardening services had grown and I struck a deal with a farmer outside of Ottawa to clear some land of small trees that were perfect for replanting on customers properties. Zak happily played in the deep bush adjacent to the field, always staying within eyeshot while I worked.

One afternoon, Zak and I went to the field to pick up some cedars for a customer whose hedge resembled a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Zak led the way down the heavily treed trail that opened into the field when a deafening gunshot changed the world that I knew.

Amidst my screams and cries, the shooter whom I never saw, took off, leaving Zak's lifeless body and me devastated beyond belief. The next day, still in shock, I called the customer, choking back tears as I explained to her what had happened. Her patronizing response of, "Oh, that's a shame, but you can get another dog. So, when do you think you'll have the cedars?" still rings in my ears to this day. Suffice it to say that she did not get her trees as I could no longer work for somebody so callous, so deficient of human emotion.

Unfortunately, this lack of empathy is often what many grief-stricken pet owners are faced with. Many people feel that grieving the loss of a pet is inappropriate, leaving owners further isolated in an extreme time of need.

The first thing that pet owners must understand is that grief is a normal response to the loss of a pet. For many people, their pet is the one constant in their lives, offering companionship and unconditional love. When these things are suddenly taken away, the intense feelings of sorrow can be overwhelming. It is imperative that owners acknowledge their grief and allow themselves permission to express it. Suppressing these emotions may intensify feelings of anger, making the grieving process linger on indefinitely.

When a human loved one passes on, friends, co-workers, even the community itself, offers compassion and understanding. Food is made, flowers are sent and schedules rearranged. Funerals and memorial services bring people together, offering support, comfort and a sense of closure. This does not commonly occur when a pet has died, but the sense of loss is the same and even greater in some cases. A person may receive overwhelming support for the death of an aging grandparent who they see 4 times a year, but be expected to quickly get over the loss of a pet who they see everyday. The reality is: a loss is a loss and one should expect to go through the same stages of grief whether that loss is a person or an animal. Owners need somebody to talk to. If family or friends cannot offer the support that is needed, it is essential to find someone that can, someone who understands what they are going through. Talk to a professional experienced in grief counseling, a psychologist or maybe a clergy member. Check online for pet loss support groups or look for a book on bereavement to help start the healing process.

I don't know if I went through all of the stages of grief. I just remember anger and a depression that stayed with me for a long time. Walks in the woods that were such a routine part of my former life, were now never taken. Dinner party invites were turned down and for a while, I pretty much isolated myself from my social group. I never talked much about what happened, but relived it every single day. Believe me, it was not a good time to be in my company at that stage. It took over a year to accept another dog into my life. The first 2 weeks with my new companion were a psychological mess, dealing with the emotions from the aftermath of Zak's death that I had suppressed.

Dakota, who I still have today, was not Zak - no matter how much I wanted him to be. Dakota continues to be a huge joy in my life and is now accepted and loved for who he is. I remember Zak and the times we shared with fond memories. However, I let a year of my life go by filled with anger and resentment because I was unable and unwilling to seek the support I needed. Looking back, I could have saved myself a lot of grief.

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