Helping Friends Who Are Mourning a Loss
By Larry Kaufman, M.S., LMFT

Sue, a 79-year-old widow, came home from shopping to find the front door of her house smashed in by a burglar. As upsetting as this was, she had another terrible surprise awaiting her. Her cherished parrot Petey - her companion for nearly 40 years - was missing from his opened cage. "I'm surprised I didn't have a heart attack right on the spot!" she remembered, with anguish in her voice. How would you go about trying to help Sue?

When people think of pet loss they usually think of an animal dying. But there are many different types of loss and no matter how the loss occurs, the guardians of these pets often have intense reactions as a result. They may experience distress, anxiety, guilt, depression, sadness, loneliness, and other unpleasant feelings for quite some time after. How you talk to them about their feelings and reactions can make an important difference in their lives.

Some people do not take pet loss seriously. They think people are silly for grieving over a pet. They are quick to tell you to get on with your life and get another animal. They cannot understand how you can become so attached to a dog, cat, bird, or other pet. Out of fear of being put down or ridiculed, many animal lovers keep their strong feelings of attachment to their pets - and their grief in relation to them - to themselves. They are then left alone with their upsetting feelings of bereavement. This is not healthy.

As a pet loss counselor, I am frequently asked by concerned people what to say to bereaved pet "owners." Most people who have had an animal companion die - or have lost their valued relationship in some other way - appreciate these responses:

In addition, a new resource is now available to pet owners who have been deprived of the company of their cherished animal friends from the international Animal Love and Loss Network (ALLN). Pet loss support is now available, without charge, through on-line chat rooms at www.alln.org.

With thanks to Mr. Kaufman for permission to use this article.  Larry Kaufman is a professional pet loss counselor and psychotherapist on the staff of the Samaritan Counseling Centers. The Centers have offices in Palm Beach and Broward Counties. He is the president of the Animal Love and Loss Network. Larry is the founder and past president of the Palm Beach County Florida Chapter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), and is the chairperson of international ADEC's Pet Loss Special Interest Group. Phone: (561) 272-6322, Ext. 320 in South Palm Beach County, (561) 832-7788, Ext. 320 in North Palm Beach County, or (954) 463-6447, Ext. 320 in Broward County.