When someone experiences the deep heartache of pet loss, no words can properly express the physical pain, pure sorrow, and hollow emptiness felt after losing a beloved friend. Pet loss differs from other losses as we each form a special, unique bond with our pets. We share unconditional love and acceptance of one another, laugh through joyful moments, and always have a confidante to seek comfort and peace. Our pets are our family, so when the day comes when they pass away, we feel more alone than ever before.
Adding to our discomfort and emotional distress, we often experience pet loss as a form of “disenfranchised grief.” This type of grief occurs when our society doesn’t acknowledge or understand our loss and doesn’t provide proper support or care. It can be very difficult to find others who truly understand this deep loss and we sadly encounter many who will expect us to recover easily. No words are more heartbreaking for pet parents than hearing how our best friend was “just a pet.”
However, there are several options for help in feeling less alone. One resource many find helpful is a pet loss support group. Pet loss support groups consist of usually 8-10 people, often led by a licensed professional, who are experiencing pet loss and can share their stories, express their feelings, and discuss coping strategies in a non-judgmental environment. Whether one’s pet has passed away recently or long ago, they are welcome to attend a support group and can even share pictures and personal mementos of their lost friend. These groups now involve both virtual and in person sessions meeting at various frequencies, most commonly one to two times per month. They typically last for one to two hours at a time and are usually complimentary or have an affordable rate. They may take place at your local veterinary office, community center, or counselor’s facility.
The flow of the group meeting varies within each group, but generally participants have a chance to introduce themselves and share their story if they would like. Groups vary in anonymity, but the facilitator ensures that everyone present understands that what is shared remains confidential. It is common for group members to share stories about their goodbye, but also about their pet’s life and their memories. It’s also common for people to just be present and listen if they aren’t ready to share.
Pet loss Support Groups can be beneficial for people of all ages. They are a place to acknowledge the human-animal bond with utmost love and respect and lend a comforting shoulder in times of need. With the modern additions of pet loss support groups and personalized counseling, our society is on its way to better understanding the unique torment of pet loss and finding more ways to help. Some pet loss support groups also include important concepts of anticipatory grief (relating to illness or injury), quality of life discussions, and specialized forms of pet loss (complicated or traumatic).
For those who have experienced the deep devastation of pet loss and are currently trying to swim above the current of conflicting emotions, physical distress, and lonely heartache, know that you are not alone. There is absolutely no loss like that of our beloved furry or feathery family member. It is so important and valuable for bereaved people to seek comfort and support during this hard time; finding a pet loss support group can be a very beneficial first step toward understanding and facing the future ahead and knowing that you are never alone.
MN Pets offers updated grief support resources on our website https://www.mnpets.com/resources. Our Support Specialists are also available to offer help with resources at (612) 354-8500 during our phone support hours of 6am-7pm Monday through Friday and 6am-5pm Saturday and Sunday.