Thursday, October 27, 2011

Losing Your Best Friend

When I would wake in the morning, I missed the furry face tickling my nose.  Sometimes I put food in his bowl before I remembered he wan't there anymore to eat it.  And when I worked at my computer, I would absently look down by my feet expecting to see two loving eyes looking up at me. Then I would remember he's gone and the pain would hit me again with a wall of tears.  Anyone who has lost a pet knows personally the experiences I'm describing.  And why shouldn't we feel a deep sadness at the loss of our most loyal companions and accepting confidants.

When Kitty's kidneys began to fail, I prepared myself for her passing, but I had no idea how painful the process actually would be. How do we know we are making the right decision to euthanize or to keep fighting for our pet's life? When my friend recently had to put down his beloved companion Doris, who had suffered for months with hip problems, he was just as troubled as when his dog Helga had died unexpectently.  Eva, who took in numerous rescued golden retrievers throughout her life, told me that each time one of her companions died, it was never any easier than the first time.  Our veterinarian is a good source for information and advice, but ultimately, it is our difficult decision.

Some well-meaning people who do not understand our grief, ask questions like, "Why are you so upset? It was just a dog," or "You knew she was sick. Why is this hitting you so hard?"  When I heard questions like that I felt embarrassed and guilty for feeling so sad. I thought perhaps I was being silly for feeling so distraught, but my feelings were actually typical. Those who have not deeply bonded with an animal and experienced their loss can not possibly understand our pain. It is for this reason that pet loss support groups are popping up across the country.  Tamara Samsa created a support group in Sacramento for people to share stories of love and companionship with their beloved animals. Meeting at the Healing Roots Animal Center, they offer the opportunity to explore the nature of loss in a safe and loving environment.  Tamara says, "As part of this program one will have a chance to hear about death from the perspective of the animals from Animal Communicator Carla Simmons. Finally, we will create a tribute to honor the life that was loved."

There are many websites dedicated to pet loss with memorial pages such as and They include advice, stories from other pet owners, resources, poetry, and personal support.  On one site, a candle light ceremony is performed by individuals across the world in memory of pets that have crossed over.  Message boards and chat rooms allow for direct interaction with others who are going through the same circumstances.

Everyone copes with their loss differently. One of my friends took the day off after putting down his dog Molly. Essentially spending the day with her in spirit, he held her leash close to him as he strolled around all the places they used to walk together.  One of my friends laid to rest her precious cat Felicia in a pet cemetery so that she would have a special place to visit her.  A customer contacted me when her vet said her german shepherd Spike had only a week at best to live. I immediately found time in my schedule to photograph him so that she and her husband could cherish Spike's portrait long after his passing.  I've also had many other customers commission an oil painting to memorialize their beloved pet.  I created a little scrapbook of Kitty complete with a lock of fur and photos from the day she came into my life to the last day I had with her.

Children may handle their pet's loss better than we think they will. Being honest and speaking openly with them, may help to address fears and questions they have about death. Never tell a child that the pet ran away or is lost. This will be sure to create fears of others leaving too and feelings of guilt that it was their fault.  The child may wonder for years if the pet will come back, and for this reason, may not accept a new pet in the home.

People are not the only one's who grieve the loss of a pet. If there are other pets in the home, more than likely they will show signs of grief too.  When Sherry had to put down her shepherd, Kyla, her other dog Sparky cried loudly and continually searched for her as if she were lost. Be sure to give your remaining pets lots of attention and love as you both grieve. Many people adopt a new pet too soon to replace the longing they have for their previous companion and to keep their other pets from being lonely. Your pets, however, may not accept a new pet into the home right away. When my cat Theo died suddenly, I wanted him back so bad that I searched for another cat just like him. But the new kitten, who looked like Theo, turned out to be a great cat with a very different, but wonderful new personality. I was lucky that my other cat finally accepted her over time too. Working through your grief, no matter how hard, is actually easier on your remaining pets and for any new pets you may eventually bring home.

So why do we continue to put ourselves through the inevitable pain of a pet's death? Is the pain we feel when they are gone greater than all the joy, love, and happiness they bring to our life while they are alive?  Well, I do know those who are would say yes to this question and cannot bring themselves to get another pet.  But for most of us, our pets bring such richness and enjoyment to our lives that a life without them is just not the same. Pets are loyal and love us unconditionally.  They seem to understand and sympathize with us when we feel alone. Our companion animals look in our eyes and are able to tell us things without saying a word.  That is why we do it all over again.

For more information about the Sacramento pet loss support group,  please contact Tamara Samsa at 916-710-2139.  They meet the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month beginning October 11, 2011 from 6:30- 8pm.

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