By Mary Oquendo
In the second pet first aid class I taught, someone suggested we bring a live dog. With that thought, Ricky, my golden retriever, joined the crew. Ricky loved coming with us to workshops and tradeshows. In fact, he would walk the trade show floor liked he owned it. Ricky knew everyone loved him and was usually greeted by his human friends well before I was even acknowledged. Ricky took great delight in stopping by Sue Zecco’s booth for some loving and to torment her poodles.
Ricky’s last show was the Atlanta Pet Fair. It was also Spirit’s first show. It was evident that Ricky took his role as a mentor to Spirit seriously. When Ricky and Spirit went outside for their morning constitutional, Ricky would grab Spirit’s lead and run him to the elevator. I believe Ricky would have been embarrassed if Spirit had an accident in the hallway. What we did not know at the time was Ricky had an aggressive heart tumor that was spreading throughout his body.
Three weeks before Intergroom, Ricky collapsed while playing outside. His gums were pale. We brought him to the veterinarian, who immediately referred us to the specialists at Katonah Bedford. The specialist informed us that due to the location of the tumor on his heart it was inoperable. Chemotherapy was not an option either as the cancer had already spread throughout his body. The prognosis was that we would have our friend with us for only a couple of hours to a day or so. The specialist was surprised Ricky had made the trip to their office. Needless to say, we were in shock.
From that moment, the five stages of grief were set in motion.
This is not happening. This is really NOT happening.
This is not fair. I take good care of my pets. Ricky had a full check up and cancer screening six months before.
I can fix this. He began daily Reiki and crystal treatments. (It did buy us two weeks instead of a day.)
This is not a mistake. I cannot fix this. I am going to lose him.
There is nothing I can do but work through my grief.
I cycled through the first four within 15 minutes and went back and did it again many times since. I am not sure I am at acceptance just yet. While Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes five stages of grief in her book “On Death and Dying”, many grief counselors add two more.
You feel nothing but disbelief. It may be like a full-body numbness.
Somehow it is your fault. Why did I not see the signs earlier? Maybe if I had, I could have saved him.
Grief can manifest in many ways.
This includes crying, shock, lump in throat, lack of energy, disturbing dreams, insomnia, lack of hunger or overeating, body aches, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Do not quickly disregard the last two as just grief as they are also indications of a heart attack.
There may be confusion, preoccupation with loss, hallucinations, sadness, resentment, guilt, and anxiety.
A person may either withdraw or become too dependent on their friends. In addition, they may distract themselves with extra work.
It may weaken or strengthen spiritual beliefs or move them towards a radically different belief system.
Everyone works through the stages in their own time. There are instances in which someone seems trapped and cannot work through their grief.
Thoughts of suicide
While grieving it is normal to have FLEETING thoughts of suicide. If these thoughts persist, tell someone.
They come on suddenly with no discernible pattern.
Depression and grief are different behaviors. Grief does mimic some symptoms of clinical depression. While grief can run its course without intervention, depression cannot. Sigmund Freud summed it up, as, “In grief, the world looks poor and empty. In depression, the person feels poor and empty.”
The healing process can be hindered by such factors as the circumstances surrounding the death, no previous experience with a loss, insensitive comments, or multiple losses. As a groomer, I regard many of my clients as extended family. I will grieve alongside them, but there are situations were we are not included. That can be rough as part of our support network is denied. A support system is critical in order for grief to run its course.
Supportive family and friends
Avoid those that minimize your feelings towards your loss because “it’s just a pet.”
There are many that specialize in pet bereavement.
Exercise caution because there is many that will prey on your vulnerability. I am fortunate to have the “real deal” as a good friend.
Online resources are valuable especially if your in-person support is not available. Many online organizations provide free or low cost grief counseling, as well as assistance in locating local in person counselors. In addition, they will offer virtual candle lighting and chat rooms with other people experiencing a loss. Most of these organizations support their websites with online shops selling personalized memorabilia. A listing of current online resources is found at www.tufts.edu/vet/petloss/links.html.
What can you do for friends or clients that have lost a pet?
Listen to them
Let them talk. You do not have to say anything. It allows them to start moving through the stages.
Send a card
There were many cards I read over and over. It was particularly helpful when I could not bring myself to talk to somebody.
Send a copy of the Rainbow Bridge poem
Many of the online organizations will send a personalized copy to their home.
Make a donation in their pet’s name
Donations were made in Ricky’s honor to two different golden retriever organizations.
Send or bring a personalized gift
I give a rose quartz heart to my clients.
Pay attention to the warning signs of suicide – It may save their life.
Ricky did not make it to Intergroom. I have a wonderful support network of friends and family. I was able to take off for the two weeks Ricky had left. We spent every day together. When he was no longer comfortable, I sent him up. Because of that network, I was able to say my goodbyes. For that, I am eternally grateful. The loss of a pet can cause grieving as intense as the loss of a human. Do not discount feelings, as “It’s just a pet.” Pets are beloved companions.