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How Much is that Doggie in Your Memory?
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2006

As most pets have a shorter life span than their owners (save a parrot or two), it is inevitable that you may experience pet loss and the grieving and mourning that accompany it.

For those people who donít feel a close connection to animals, it is difficult for them to understand the attachment and companionship that you have enjoyed. They simply donít get that pets have unique personalities and insinuate themselves into a household--and a heart. Because pets love unconditionally, they are always present for us and we can often feel comforted by their presence. They understand us often in ways that people do not.

Consequently, the passing of such a companion is an enormous emotional experience. Everyone grieves differently, even within the same household as the family pet serves different functions for each person who feels its loss.

1. Itís OK to Grieve - Despite what others tell you, you must allow yourself to grieve and give yourself time and space to mourn. Be patient. Understand that there will be times of intense sadness that may overcome you when you are home alone or when you see someone with their pet. It may also be difficult when you go through a routine you once shared with your pet. Walking in the door without that warm greeting makes you more conscious of your loss but at the same time appreciative that you had such a wonderful companion in your life. Such rituals as taking your daily walk together will be difficult so venture along that path again when you feel ready and maybe take along someone for company. Remember your grief will lighten and life will be pleasant again with the memories you have intact. Donít be afraid to lean on friends.

2. Memorialize Your Pet - Pay close attention to what your pet meant to you and recognize his or her place in your life. You may want to put an album of pictures together or frame a special photo that captures the personality of your pet. Dedicate a bench in a garden in honor of your pet or donate to an animal shelter or an animal- therapy program.

3. Ready for a New Pet? - If you are considering getting another pet but you arenít quite ready, consider volunteering at an animal shelter so you can get your animal fix, while at the same time giving much needed care and attention to the animals who arenít lucky enough to have a loving home. It takes time to transition, so give yourself the time you need.

If you have opened your heart to the unconditional love of a pet, give yourself the time heal from this profound loss.

In tribute to and in memory of my Tibetan Terrier, Miles Davis, whose undying spirit and loving companionship remains with me forever ...

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