Sunday, June 17, 2012

Advice from Our Grief Counselor

Today I am sharing with you a blog that my best friend Linda wrote. She has been my best friend for 7 years, (ever since I moved here after vet school). She owns an antique store in Gatchellville Pa. and lives about 10 minutes away from our home. She has been a dog lover since…well, I think forever. Miniature poodles have always been her favorite because they are small, portable, and she can dress them up. When I first met her she had Mason a ten pound strawberry blond curly haired bouncing boy. He had a vertical leap that allowed him to launch his tiny body straight up and into your arms. She and her husband Carroll now have two white miniature poodles, Banjo and Noodle. Banjo was rescued from our clinic because he had chronic skin infections and his owners no longer had the ability to treat him. As soon as I saw him I knew that he would be the perfect companion for Noodle. The two have been inseparable buddies since Day 2. (It usually takes a bit of time for the resident pup to accept a new pup. I was actually surprised it didn’t take Noodle longer. He is a little spoiled,,and sometimes the Prima Donnas don’t take to change so willingly).



Carroll and the pups, in matching outfits, of course.

The pups matching haircuts.

Noodle and Banjo on their porch.

Linda and her pups.

Linda, in addition to running her own antique store and spoiling her two poodles also provides another service, she is our grief support person.
Easter lunch greeting.


Linda and Carroll's store.


Here is another blog from Linda about grief.
     What do we say to people who have lost a pet?  Sometimes when we don’t know what to say, we say nothing.  We figure it’s better to say nothing than commit some sort of faux pas and instead say the wrong thing.
     Over the past six months every week or so, sometimes every few days, sometimes a few times a day, I will get a call from Mary Ellen at Jarrettsville Vet Center to tell me that “One of our pets has died. Can you give his parents a call and see how they are doing?”
     To me, this is a service that all veterinary practices should offer, but I don’t think they do.  It makes sense though. The practice follows a pet through all of the years of his life, and then, what?  Nothing?
     I always have to repeat to the grieving parents that I am not trained in grief counseling, but by now, I feel like I have a bit of experience.  I have immersed myself in every book on pet grief that Amazon has to offer. 
 And I feel like I talk about it now non-stop, (a great way to put a damper on any dinner party by the way this is why I am no longer invited anywhere, I guess).
     But I have had pets and I have lost them.
     I’ve learned a lot in the past few months. One thing I learned is that people-friends, spouses, teachers, neighbors-just don’t know what to say, so they do what is comfortable and they stay away.  Unfortunately a lot of people go through this grief alone.
     But it’s easy to say the right things...easy.

     When I started, I was nervous, just as any of you might be when faced with the task of cheering up someone who has been through a death.  I had notes in front of me...what advice I could offer? How could I help? How could I cheer them up?  Well, I was all wrong and lucky for me I caught on fast.
THERE IS NO CHEERING UP.
THERE IS NO TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL BETTER.
Forget about all of that nonsense.
      The people who are going through this type of loss are not going to feel better, not for a while.  They are not going to cheer up-not today, not tonight, not until they are finished with whatever grieving process they need to go through.
     People in grief do not want to be cheered up in my opinion, to be cheery at a time of such loss would minimize the huge effect that their pet had on their life. 
Now, when I make one of my calls (and now there are no notes, no advice sheets, no pad and pencil, much better.) I call and introduce myself and just say,
·         Would you like to talk about it?
·         What are you missing the most right now?
·         What was it that made Spooky (or Peanuts, or Sweet Pea, or Angel) so special???
 And once those questions are asked, the words, sometimes the tears, come flowing out.
     Often people experiencing pet loss don’t think their loss is worthy of too many words.  People have already told them, “Well, at least it wasn’t a real person. It was just a cat.”
The best thing we can do when someone we know has lost a pet is just to pick up the phone and ask, “Do you want to talk about it?”
      Now, I am not talking about people who need professional help.  If you know someone who is not eating, not sleeping, not able to function-certainly, they should be steered towards a professional who can help them find peace with their feelings. 
     But for most of us it really helps to just open up and talk.  It’s something we can all do-for the people we love-but also for a lonely neighbor who we suspect might not have anyone to talk to.
     So easy-“Would you like to talk about it?”
In closing, this is a picture of my own angel, Mason, who died six years ago. I still miss him, of course but now whenever I think of him, I have a big smile on my face.
Mason, when he was a puppy.

There are many books that deal with the subject of grieving the loss of a pet. 
Some of my favorites (and all are available on Amazon.com as well as other sites):
·         The Loss of a Pet by Wallace Sife
·         Goodbye, Friend by Gary Kowalski
·         Pet Loss by Herbert Nieburg and Arlene Fischer
·         When Your Pet Dies by Alan Wolfert

Two books that specifically deal with children’s feelings are:
·         Children and Pet Loss by Marty Tousley-an advice book for parents of children.
·         Remembering Candy by Rob Van der Gulik.  This book is an illustrated children’s book, geared specifically to small kids, written by the author along with his two children.  At the end of the story, there are two pages with questions and advice for children experiencing loss. This is the book that I would read to my own grandchildren if they lost one of their pets.

My favorite book on pet loss is called
·         Going Home...Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz.  Mr. Katz is a writer, farmer, cattle breeder, and dog lover who has written many best sellers about life with dogs including Soul of a Dog, Dog Days, A Good Dog, and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm.
Going Home is his personal tale of coming to terms with the grief following the loss of his dogs over many years. Most poignant to me was his guilt and grief over putting down his dog, Orson, who was healthy, but aggressive-he had bitten three people.
He writes about giving a dog whose time is coming to an end, “a perfect day” filled with love, special treats, and special activities, and letting the dog’s friends come to say good bye before the end.  He also writes about the importance of preparing for a dog’s death in advance, (when that is possible...sometimes it isn’t, of course).  He suggests having a plan for that day and week, making sure you have companionship either at the death or shortly after, having a grave dug in advance, if that is your choice, and a ceremony to mark the date. His writing is both practical and poetic…very helpful.
Banjo guarding the window.


On duty.




We all have matching outfits!


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