You Are Not Alone - Experiencing Loss Today
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The loss of a companion is inevitable, but today, going through the grief process no longer means you have to go it alone.
For so many of us, a big part of childhood meant having a dog. We can look back, on memories filled with playing hide and seek, catch, and even afternoon naps, all experienced with our best buddy. My strongest childhood memories and some of my happiest moments, include a dog at my side. These joyful memories are what motivated me to not miss out on having a dog in my life as an adult.
The amount of fun we had together when I was a kid, seemed like it would last forever. But alas it would not. However, our happy moments together far outweighed the sorrow of their eventual passing. The dogs’ unique personalities along with our shared experiences, are treasured memories that remain decades later. We had this in mind when my husband and I set eyes on our dog at the San Francisco SPCA, and we took a gamble with our hearts. However, as they say in the betting world, it’s kind of “a sure thing.” The odds are that we dog lovers will outlive our dearest companions.
Once our dog Cleo moved into her golden years, we began working to prepare for the inevitable, and to embrace her aging process. She is our first dog together, and given our close bond, we’ve found emotional value in periodically discussing the final stages of her life. Not long ago, you would have had to weather the entire experience alone. Fortunately today, there are tools and support groups to help you focus more on the joys in having a four-legged best buddy, and less on the anxiety over their passing. Whether loss is sudden or through natural causes, there are steps that can ease you through the stages of grief, minimizing regret and guilt. These resources can help you create positive and peaceful memories of the time spent with your four-legged companion. Our companion animals are on this Earth such a short time. We are lucky to have them for the time we do, so we must cherish every moment.
30 years ago, veterinary practices and public attitudes were more abrupt and distant in regard to viewing dogs as family members. Those grieving over a lost dog found few resources to help prepare for grief, let alone help you through it. It was common to hear, “Fido was only a dog, just get another one.” Fortunately times and attitudes have changed. There are resources available and widespread compassion to be found today in support of those who have lost a furry family member.
A major resource can be found in online communities, where networks of people are going through similar experiences. One of the best sources today for free expert guidance is The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB). The group takes pride in being the collective wisdom and experience of all their friends and members. The APLB chatrooms are specifically designed for supportive guidance through loss bereavement, which includes the loss of Service Dogs. Understanding the intense emotions surrounding euthanasia, they include a Quality of Life Scale for caregivers needing perspective and guidance. You’ll also find information on how to help a child through the death of a canine companion. Supported by professionally trained volunteers in bereavement counseling, this nonprofit offers all of its services for free to anyone in need. The APLB website is filled with extensive lists of specialized help categories including state-specific hot lines, and suggested reading.
“Grieving the Death of a Pet,” a book written by Betty J. Carmack, RN, Ed.D, is a collection of personal stories shared during her years as a grief counselor for bereaved owners. The author includes her own sudden loss of a beloved dog decades earlier which inspired her to create the companion animal loss support group at the San Francisco SPCA. It was 1978 and her 10-year-old dachshund Rocky died in a rafting accident. There were no books, counselors, or hot lines to help you cope with your loss back then. “I would have given anything for some kind of support,” Betty said. A few years after the accident she heard Jamie Quackenbush, a University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine social worker, speaking on television about supporting people after the death of their animal. A light bulb went off in Betty’s head, and she contacted Quackenbush. He generously shared with her all the information he had about setting up a support group. Betty worked with the SF SPCA Board of Directors, and in 1982 they became the first humane society to offer free regular monthly loss counseling. Since the beginning, Betty has been volunteering her time and services each month.