Monday, December 5, 2016

Pet Loss: Finding Support in A Group

[Reviewed and updated January 15, 2023]

A knowledge that another has felt as we have felt, and seen things not much otherwise than we have seen them, will continue to the end to be one of life’s choicest blessings. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

A reader writes: I have a question. I had to make one of the hardest decisions this past Saturday when I had to put down my beloved dog Bruno. I am not doing so well now. My vet knows of a pet loss support group she thinks I should attend, but I’m not sure how it could help, and I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable in a group like that. Can you tell me what you would recommend?

My response: My dear, I am so sorry to learn of the loss of your beloved dog, and of the part you had to play in deciding it was time to let your dear Bruno go. Having been faced with this same situation more than once myself, I know how profoundly difficult such a decision can be, and my heart goes out to you at this sad time.

It has been my experience that effective grief work is not done alone, and whether we connect with others in person or online, I believe that support groups for bereaved animal lovers are invaluable. When we’ve lost a cherished pet, we need to connect with others who understand the human-animal bond, who’ve suffered a similar loss, and who know what our sorrow feels like. At a time when it may be difficult for us to feel comfortable in the usual social settings, pet loss support groups give us a safe place to interact with others. Here we can express feelings without fear of being judged, and ask questions and get responses from others whose experiences may be similar to our own. These others listen willingly, and they share their stories of loss with us also. No one knows the pain of pet loss as well as someone else who is experiencing it, too. It’s also very reassuring to learn that what we are going through is normal.

Working our way through grief is some of the hardest work we will ever have to do, but realizing that we don’t have to do it all by ourselves can be life-affirming. One of the saddest realities about losing a loved one, whether that is a person or a cherished pet, is that friends and family members tend to be finished with our grief long before we are done with our own need to talk about it. That’s why it’s so important that we find understanding, non-judgmental listeners with whom we can openly acknowledge our reactions and experiences, express and work through our pain, and come to terms with what has happened to us.

Another important benefit is that by sharing our loss and pain with other members in the group, we help one another. Eventually we find ourselves on the giving end of this compassion, reaching out through our own woundedness to the newly bereaved, helping them along, listening to them and offering them the hope that, just as we have survived our own losses, they will survive theirs also. Together, stumbling along the way and reaching out for help, pausing to offer comfort and walking on together, we can complete our journey. In the process, we learn to love and to be loved much more fully. It is one of the great lessons in loss.

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