Santa Fe Scoop

Printed in PETroglyphs newsleter, Spring 2007

by Steffie Grow, MSW

Millions of people now consider animal companions to be a part of their family. Animals provide joy, friendship, and unconditional love that brightens our lives and adds a dimension of fulfillment unique to these special relationships.

Given this deep connection, it is only natural that we grieve when our animal companion dies. Yet those of us suffering such a deep loss are often left feeling misunderstood and alone in our grief.

Unfortunately, ours is a culture that is uncomfortable with the multitude of emotions and reactions that accompany grief, as it often brings up our own feelings of loss. It can be difficult to be supportive of others if we didn’t receive support ourselves!

The loss of an animal companion often carries with it an additional layer of hurt when our feelings are minimized or discounted. In addition, issues such as the difficult decision to euthanize, loss through disappearance, and violent deaths through injury and accidents can complicate grief.

By having a better understanding of the grief experience, we can begin to have more compassion for ourselves and for others seeking our support.

· Recognize that grief is a natural response to loss.

It is an evolving process with many ups and downs. Try to be gentle and accepting of yourself as you experience your emotions and move through these changes.

· Grief is unique to each person and will be influenced by many factors.

These include the intensity and length of relationship, whether the death was sudden or anticipated, numerous, recent, or unresolved.

· Time alone does not heal the pain of loss.

People often ask “how long will I feel like this”? For some it can take months, for others it will be years. The intense part of grief will change and diminish, but waves of grief can occur when your memories are rekindled.

· Grief is hard work.

It is hard physically and emotionally. It can challenge your spiritual or religious faith, affect your ability to concentrate, and influence your relationships with others.

· Ritual is important.

Rituals can be powerful expressions of your love. They can be either private or shared. Donating to a charity, planting a tree, or creating an altar with a candle and photo are just some ideas for memorializing your beloved.

· Ignore the clichés, but not the good intentions.

Many people will “offer” their advice on how to cope. Particularly in regards to the death of an animal, you might hear hurtful things like: “Just get another dog”, or“ He was only an animal”. More commonplace clichés are: “She wouldn’t want you to be so sad”, or “He’s in a better place”. Most people mean well, but for those who are grieving, these words fall flat and can leave you feeling empty and misunderstood. Learning to trust and honor your feelings without approval or advice from others can help you to stay balanced.

· Get support through sharing.

Sharing your story is part of the healing process. You are fortunate if you have friends or family who are able to listen well (without giving advice). Consider joining a support group or a chat room, or seeing a counselor. A trained counselor can provide support, education, and guidance through a difficult period in your grief.

Steffie Grow, MSW is a licensed social worker in private practice with a specialty in grief counseling. She has ten years experience as a Hospice grief counselor, is a member of APLB, and is an animal lover. For questions, or to schedule an appointment, she can be reached at: (505) 660-3789 or email:

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Comment by Lisa on August 30, 2009 at 8:22am
{{{{Claudia}}}} Truly, you and Stephen are in my prayers and healing thoughts. I am so sorry it was so sudden. I wish I could help to ease it for you both.
Comment by Claudia Inoue on August 30, 2009 at 8:10am
This loss is nothing compaired to Lucy's death in April. Don't get me wrong, I loved Lucy, but Rico....what I felt for Rico, with everything we had been through with him, is simply beyond words. My pain right now is beyond words. Watching my husband sitting here with tears streaming down his face is beyond words. I'm trying to muster the strength to write a blog about Rico, I just feel so empty right now.
Comment by Lisa on August 30, 2009 at 8:07am
Thank you Cindy, you put that very very wonderfully into words that can help. Grief is a hard issue to deal with. Talking does help so much. It is such an awkward topic for many people that they don't know what to do or what to say to help console someone.
Again, thank you Cindy.
Claudia, I hope you are doing ok. I am so sorry about things.
Comment by CindyR on August 29, 2009 at 8:45pm
I saw a grief counselor too after my beloved mare Frenchy died so suddenly. It was very helpful because she was able to make me see how many different levels I'd suffered a loss on, which helped explain why it hurt so excruciatingly. I only had one session but I'm sure I could have benefited from multiple sessions.
Comment by Julie L on August 29, 2009 at 4:47pm
I had a few sessions with Steffie when my dog passed away unexpectedly, tragically a few years ago. I waited 6 months before I gave in and decided I really needed to talk about it. I should have gone sooner. She was very helpful. It helped having someone who truly understood the human-dog bond. Veterinary Cancer Care 982-4492 also has (or used to anyway) a weekly pet loss support group I think on Monday nights. Your pet does not need to have been a patient. It was open to anyone. I found them helpful too. There's also this website where 1000s of people from around the world go to the website every Monday night and light a candle for lost pets and you can chat and share with others online.
Comment by CindyR on August 29, 2009 at 10:41am
The information about grieving being hard work is so true. Be kind to yourself.
Comment by Claudia Inoue on August 29, 2009 at 10:18am
Thank you, Cindy

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