Pet Help You Need:
Explore Resources in Your Community
As public awareness of pet loss spreads, so does the availability of help for bereaved pet owners in the community. For example, The Companion Animal Association of Arizona offers free of charge its Pet Grief Support Service (602-995- 5885), which provides a 24 hour-a-day telephone helpline; support group meetings; information, literature and reading lists on pet loss; and referrals to appropriate resources. (Although there is no charge for this service, be aware that long distance calls will be returned collect.) The Service is operated entirely by trained volunteers who themselves have suffered the loss of a pet. On going assistance is provided by a certified mental health professional who specializes in pet loss and bereavement, and by a veterinarian affiliated with the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association.
Ask a pet crematory or cemetery representative, your local humane society, your veterinarian or your pet grooming specialist if they know of any pet loss services in your community or even if they know of any recently bereaved clients who may be willing to talk with you. Visit your public library, local book- store or pet supply store and ask for information and literature on pet loss and bereavement. Look for pet loss services advertised in your Yellow Pages or local newspaper, or posted on bulletin boards in your grocery store, library, church or school.
If you have a computer and access to the Internet, there are all sorts of places to go that offer information and support to people who are grieving the loss of a cherished pet. While “surfing the net” is not for everyone, it’s clear that there are many, many people across the country that’ve found their computers helpful in coping with the painful emotions associated with losing a special pet, and through this medium they want to help others as well. (See the Appendix at the end of this book for further information.)
Telephone help-lines are springing up every where, some operating 24 hours a day, staffed by compassionate, understanding listeners who have loved and lost their own dear pets and are ready to help others cope with losing theirs.
Support groups are not to be confused with group therapy. Their purpose is to lend support to those who have lost or are anticipating the loss of a companion animal. They are not about changing your values, your personality or the way you think about things. A well-run support group offers a safe, structured environment in which you can learn about the grieving process, express and work through your feelings of loss, and recognize that your painful experiences are shared by others in the group.
Self-help support groups (facilitated by volunteers who themselves have lost a pet, worked through their grief and are now committed to helping others move through the grief process) can be very effective. Ideally, however, the facilitators will be assisted by a mental health professional and a veterinarian, both of whom have experienced their own pet loss. The mental health professional has a strong back- ground and experience in grief education and therapy; understands group dynamics and group process; can provide structure and “ground rules” for the group; and knows how to address the more complicated issues of loss that may come up (anger or thoughts of suicide, for example). The veterinarian’s contribution is invaluable in helping grieving owners’ deal with their anger and their guilt. Owners become better consumers of veterinary care when they’re encouraged by a veterinarian in a support group to return to their own vet to get answers to whatever questions may be lingering about their pet’s illness or cause of death. Grieving owners need to know that they did all they could for their dear pets, and only a veterinarian has the professional medical expertise to offer that level of reassurance. Not all pet loss support groups offer the regular assistance of a pet bereavement counselor and a veterinarian, and you may wish to ask about this as you investigate pet grief support resources in your community.
Pet Bereavement Counselors are counselors or therapists who specialize in helping people who are anticipating or coping with the loss of a beloved companion animal. They have education and training not only in loss and bereavement in general, but in pet loss and bereavement in particular. They understand attachment and loss as it pertains to the human-animal bond, and their focus is on helping to heal the pain that’s felt when that bond is broken. Therapists without this understanding may misinterpret the strength of your attachment to your companion animal and the depth of your grief over its death.
Organizations such as the Companion Animal Association of Arizona and the Delta Society maintain directories of individuals and organizations specializing in pet loss throughout the country, and update them yearly. Listings are also posted regularly on the World Wide Web.