Pet loss – let’s feel free to talk about it

I have always felt strongly about the connection between adolescent’s loss of a pet and depression or at least grief. So much so, I held a talk for the public about pet loss and grief. I hired a pet loss expert and then it was lightly attended. It could have been that it was a Saturday afternoon but I really think people are afraid to say, “I miss my pet!”

Yesterday I was invited to share pet loss information at a huge dog event. It was a strange speaking situation in that no one was sitting directly in front of me – or even on the side – it was outside. I did see one little girl listening intently so maybe I reached one person. I let her know that her feelings do matter and it’s normal and okay to miss your dog or cat when they die.

Today’s pets in the U.S. live as long as 20 years (some cats even longer!).  Anything, animal or human, that lives with you for a long time becomes part of you. Your routines are based on their needs. Your needs are based around their routines.

For example, my alarm clock goes off in the morning at 6:25 am. I know that Sheila (our cute little Sheltie mix) will be ready to go outside and then eat her breakfast.

It’s expected and I gladly do it for the happiness she brings me everyday. I’m rewarded when I get home at the end of the day with her little nose right there at the door waiting to welcome me home. She then jumps up on my legs, ready to provide a kiss if I need one.

Sheila is 11 years old and I am so fearful of the day that she can no longer be here for us. Or that we can no longer be here for her. See how it works?

She is showing her age by moving slower and not wanting to play for long. And she’s gained some gray hairs on her muzzle. But she’s still our girl.

The reason for my extreme attachment is that Sheila was at home the morning I found my son after he died by suicide.

That morning was quite chaotic but I seem to remember putting her in the guest bedroom downstairs after EMS and the police showed up. I don’t think she went upstairs when I was up there with Cameron. She was probably scared!

When I was asked to go to the hospital with my son that morning, I was worried about Sheila. I told the detective to be sure not to let her out. He promised he’d leave via the garage so she would be safe in the house.

She has been my comfort, as well as some humans, ever since.

There are two other pets I had that I still miss to this day. I had other cats and a couple of dogs but Albert and Canzas lived longer than the others so those are the ones that remain in my memory.

Albert was a beautiful black cat that had a penchant for fighting. His ears were gnarled up from fighting other cats. He came into my life, gosh I don’t remember how, but he grew up with Canzas. Canzas was an Irish Setter we acquired in Memphis and then moved to San Diego with us and later to Raleigh. Canzas was a bit daffy but sweet all the same.

Canzas was seven when he died. A vehicle on Highway 70 in Raleigh hit him. We lived on Ebenezer Church Road quite close to 70. We always just let him outside, which was the norm during those days.

One night a band member came over and I shooed Canzas outside since we lived in a small space. He didn’t come back that night. Our neighbor came over to give us the sad news. He even offered to bury our beloved pet for us in the woods which we accepted. Losing Canzas was as hard on my first husband as it was for me.

Albert met his demise while I was living in Five Points on New Road. Albert was an indoor/outdoor cat. He loved it that way. He was a frequent visitor of our next-door neighbors, an older couple who loved Albert, too.

When he didn’t come in one morning, I suspected he was at my neighbor’s house. But instead the neighbor came over and told me that a pack of wild dogs had killed Albert. In Raleigh – wild dogs! I couldn’t believe it. I took Albert, wrapped him a quilt and buried in my to-be-husband’s back yard. Albert was 11 years old at his death.

I have gone over my time here. I have provided resources for those affected by pet loss on The Shore Grief Center’s website. You can find it here – go to the bottom of the page to Pet Loss and Grief. Take time to heal after you lose a cherished pet. You have every right to grieve – don’t apologize for it.

Take care of your pets and yourself.

Please share with your friends, families and neighbors! Thanks.

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Sheila and Carolyn Sept 2014

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Albert

Carolyn Z

Death education – really – it’s good stuff!

IMG_2855I attended the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference recently in Baltimore (funny the last time I was in Baltimore was for a suicidology conference – yep I go to all the “fun” conferences!). This was my first foray into this group of helpful people who study and research the bereaved. Very friendly attendees!

I learned so much in my 2 1/2 days there. Some tidbits I gained:

  • Mindfulness is the hot topic this year – let’s all practice it on a daily basis. Be here, now, not in the past or future. But now.
  • Giving and expecting nothing in return (Robert Wicks)
  • To those worried about what to say to the bereaved, don’t be afraid that you’ll make us cry; we’re already crying anyway.
  • Pay attention to your emotions, “go where they want you to go.”
  • Complicated grief disorder – it’s real and violent death losses are predisposed to CGD.
  • College students and grief – faculty and staff see more grieving students than college counselors
  • Widowers want different types of groups. Such as gathering for an athletic or other social event.
  • PR – do one post per day on Facebook (I better get busy!). And include an image.
  • There’s a debate surrounding prescribing anti-depressants to the bereaved. They should not be used to treat life problems (such as grief).
  • And the best one – there are actual pet hospices in the country! YEA!  Our pets are getting the attention they deserve when it’s time for them to leave us.

Wonderful information and I’m happy to share it with you. Comments and questions are always welcome. Got any?

Carolyn Zahnow
Shore Grief Center