Pet Loss Support Groups

Recently, I was at my vet’s office and saw an advertisement in the lobby for a local pet loss support group.  I figured it would be good to share this with those that may be looking for support and live nearby.  If you know of other support groups in the US and Canada, please feel free to add them below in the comments section.  Thank you!

http://www.karenannquinlanhospice.org/support-groups-for-adults/#Pet_Loss_Support_Group    Be sure to check the link for the most up-to-date information.

NEWTON, NJ AREA

Third Monday every other month:

  • Monday, February 21
  • Monday, April 18
  • Monday, June 20
  • Monday, August 15
  • Monday, October 17
  • Monday, December 19

11:00 – 12:30 p.m.

Joseph T. Quinlan Bereavement Center
61 Spring St.
Newton, NJ

Our pets are cherished and beloved members of our families. When we experience their loss we do grieve deeply. Please join us if you would like to share your feelings with people who understand and care.

Call Diana Sebzda (973) 940-0411 for information and registration.

Touching base

It has been many months since I stopped in and posted something.  We are all doing okay.  Our two other dogs have in their own ways moved on, although there are times when we see changes in them — things that are just a bit different from when Kai was still alive.  Our female shepherd, Elli, seems to have stepped up into the role of “top dog.”  There are many times I see her in a certain light or doing something and I see Kai in her.  It is painful, but at the same time comforting.  She has really tried her hardest to fill in the void.

I have gone back and forth trying to decide whether I should share my last day with Kai with all of you.  Part of me thinks it may help others, but then I feel like it may be gruesome and off-putting to others.  Ultimately, death is part of life so a post could happen about it or I may just keep that very private moment in my life and his to myself.

Euthanasia

Kai has been gone from our lives for 6 months.  I still find it hard to believe.  The pain is still very real.  Things like seeing a German Shepherd dog walking down the street or hearing Elli bark remind me of him so much.  We were so blessed to have him in our lives.  As our first dog as a couple, we couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

Now you may wonder why I have a cat as my image for this post.  This picture is of Halley.  She passed away in the Summer of 2005.  She was a great cat with so much personality and none of it was your typical snobby, aloof cat stuff.  She slept curled around my head and followed me around like a puppy.  Great gal!

Her death was different from Kai’s in that is was a scheduled euthanasia.  I wanted to share a bit about what I know about euthanasia with you from my time in vet tech school as well as from my own experience.  Halley is the only pet I have seen euthanized, but it is a very vivid memory so if you have questions please ask.

What to expect:

-You will be asked to sign a release form.  If the terminology is unclear, ask for clarification before signing.

-You will need to decide on one of the options available for the remains of your pet.  You can take him home and in some areas bury your pet in your backyard.  You can also opt for burial in a pet cemetery.  Cremation is an option as well.  Group cremation means your pet will be cremated with others and the ashes are then spread over a garden or other location.  In private cremation, your pet is cremated alone and you receive the ashes back usually within 1-2 weeks.  We opted for cremation for Kai which was about $190 for a 95 pound dog.

-It is usually best to pay for things beforehand, but in some cases the office may bill you.

-You will also need to decide if you wish to be present during the procedure.  Some people opt to stay, other do not.  There is no judgment from the vet or the vet techs.  Please do what you want to do, but do take the time to say goodbye to your animal.  Generally, you will be allowed to sit in a comfortable, quiet room with your animal to take the time to say goodbye.

If you do stay, the vet or tech will discuss in detail what will happen during the procedure and they will tell you what is happening as things progress.  Things that may happen:

-Vocalization from your pet.  It may make noise, but this doesn’t mean that it is in pain.
– Your animal may appear to breathe even after it has passed due to the positive pressure in the lungs.
-Urination and/or defecation may occur.

Please ask questions if you have any.  The doctor and the vet tech want to assure you understand what is happening.

The actual procedure:

-The doctor will inject the animal with the euthanasia solution via IV.  The IV is usually placed beforehand by the tech. 
-It takes 5-30 seconds for the animal to die.
-Usually there is one last breath and respirations stop then the heart will stop.  The animal becomes limp and may lose bowels.  There may also be muscle movement.  The doctor will listen to the heart and pronounce the animal dead.
-You will then be given time to be alone with your pet.  Please take all the time you need and express your emotions.  Don’t be afraid to touch your pet and say a final goodbye.

 Some additional things to know about euthanasia:

-The vet and vet techs cannot make the choice for you when it comes time.  It is illegal for them to make that decision for you and inappropriate.  They can give you the information you need to come to your own decision as well as the compassion and understanding you need at such a tough time in your pet’s life.

-A vet can refuse to euthanize your animal except in certain legal situations.  If he or she refuses to euthanize that should tell you something about the pet’s quality of life at the time.

-Please don’t ask the vet or tech to lie to your children about what is going on.  Also I am not a fan of the term “putting the animal to sleep” especially when it concerns kids.  It may seem like a gentle way to tell a child what is going on, but it doesn’t give them the full scope of things.  They may expect your pet to wake up or come back home.  Of course, what you tell them really depends on the child’s age and comprehension, but I believe in honesty.

When Halley died, we opted to stay with her.  The time before the euthanasia we had with her was bittersweet.  She had been sick for a while and spent some time in the hospital so we hadn’t seen too much of her over the last several days.  I wish she had more time at home with us, but she was just too sick and needed professional care throughout the day.  It was wonderful to pet her and hold her, but knowing she would be gone so soon was very difficult.  She was no longer eating or drinking on her own and had lost a lot of weight.  Her organs were also failing.  She was a very sick kitty and rather than have her suffer we opted to have her euthanized.  We spent a lot of time with her that afternoon.

The vet talked us through what was happening as the injection went in and she died very peacefully.  The vet stepped out of the room and gave us as much time as we needed.  I remember picking her up and being hit with the reality of what had happened as her body lay limp in my arms.  We left the hospital and Mark called when we got home because I was so worried she was all alone in the exam room and they would forget she was there.  In hindsight, of course, she was gone so it didn’t matter, but I wanted her body to be taken care of respectfully.

We opted for private cremation.  When we picked her ashes up I didn’t know what to expect.  I asked the receptionist before she brought them out, because I didn’t want to be handed a Ziploc bag full of remains.  If you have never picked up ashes for a pet before, how are you to know?  We received her ashes in a lovely wooden box that was inside a cloth bag.  This will vary from place to place, but you shouldn’t worry about being handed something awful when you get your pet back.

Her ashes spent a long time right next to my bed.  I had her on a windowsill near my head.  I wanted her near me.  She now sits atop a mirror shelf in our bedroom.  I think of her often and miss her like crazy.  You were a great cat Halley!

Spring

Kai became a part of our family in the Spring.  April 6, 2002 to be exact.  I remember the day well.  Mark had called a few days before to talk to our landlord to see if it would be okay if he got me a dog for my birthday.  She agreed!

As humans new to the dog-owning business, we didn’t really do any research.  I know that is hard to believe because both of us are research fiends when it comes to most things.  In this case, we just ended up at a local petstore and saw our very first White German Shepherd.  We were sold in an instant.   We grabbed a leash, a collar and our new puppy and went home to play.  It was a long, great day.  Somewhere in there we bought a crate, bowls, toys and food.  I don’t remember much of that kind of stuff.  What I do remember is having this sweet little boy looking at us and the years that same sweet boy belonged to us and us to him.

It is hard not to be reminded of him daily, but this time of year is so very bittersweet.  The painful tears come when they want to, but they are also mixed with wonderful memories.  I have been dreaming about him although he never makes an appearance.  In one dream, I am calling for him and then realize he is dead and calling will do no good.  I know it is silly, but I would like to see him in a dream so I can pet him and tell him how much I love him.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman’s Newsletter: How can you survive losing your pet?

Kai visited Dr. Zeltzman a few years ago for an anal sac problem.  It had abcessed and our regular vet thought it would be best to see a specialist.  The basic treatment was to flush the area several times a day and then come back for a recheck.  I remember the conversation with Dr. Zeltzman when Kai was looked at again a couple of weeks later.  He surprisingly said, “Have you seen the area?”  I of course replied with a “yes” as I had been flushing it with water each day – not something Kai or I enjoyed.  The doctor was surprised as things were nicely healed up.  His reaction made me chuckle, because it isn’t often that I have talked to a vet that admits surprise.  It is kind of humbling.  This made me remember Dr. Zeltzman fondly.

This newsletter I received in my mailbox from Dr. Zeltzman last week seems timely and I thought I would share it with you.  I recommend signing up for Dr. Zeltzman’s newsletter – http://www.drphilzeltzman.com/Free_newsletter.html 
and visiting his site – http://www.drphilzeltzman.com
I have found both very helpful!  At the end of the newsletter is also information to join a grief support group in the Lehigh Valley.  Please consider joining!

Thank you to Dr. Zeltzman for allowing me to share his newsletter here.  I had been struggling with how to begin a post about the Stages of Grief and found myself angry there was such a thing at all.  I remember learning about it in high school and college psychology courses and then again when euthanasia was covered as I studied to become a veterinary technician.  Always an emotional thing to learn.

How can you survive losing your pet? – #206

Most people consider that we go though 5 stages when we experience grief: denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance. There are variations: they can occur in a different sequence as well. And different stages can blend together.

All of these emotions are normal. So now is not the time to talk to insensitive people, especially those who don’t own pets, as they probably would not understand how you feel. It is important to remember that we all will experience different emotions, at different times, through this ordeal.

This newsletter will be peppered with actual testimonials from several pet owners and subscribers. Most quotes are from Smokie’s owner, a 6 year old mixed-breed dog who was diagnosed with cancer, which had spread throughout her belly.

WARNING: You might want to find a box of tissues before you go any further…

Let’s explore each stage.

Denial:
“I just can’t believe it” is a frequent initial reaction. Clients tell me that they thought they heard their dog’s nails on the kitchen floor. Others say they thought that they saw the shadow of their cat, running around the corner.

 Smokie’s owner wrote: “I really cannot believe it happened. (…) I miss her so, so, so much. She was such a big part of the family and especially my life. (…) I can’t bear to be without her.”

“It wasn’t her time yet. We were robbed of a long, beautiful life together. I wish I could go a day without crying. I love her soooooooo much and need her. I NEVER loved anything like I loved her. I need her.”

Denial helps us ignore reality for a while, and put off the pain and the grief. At some point, we must snap out of this feeling, and face reality. “Life must go on.” Eventually, we must take care of ourselves, take care of our families and other pets, and go back to work.

Anger:
First, we are sometimes angry at ourselves. If your pet died, surely it must be your fault.

“How could I forget to close the gate and let him get hit by a car?”

“How could I have been so negligent and leave this (toy, bone, cleaning product, medication vial) within her reach?”

“How could I be so weak and accept to have him euthanized?”

During the anger phase, we feel that we have failed our pet.

This anger can turn to other people: your spouse (who forgot to close the gate), your child (who let his toys on the floor, yet again), your vet. Vets often feel the wrath of clients who decide to blame them for what happened. I suspect that this is a time when threats of a lawsuit may surface.

“I am still in shock and I wasn’t ready for this. Never did I think in a million years she wasn’t coming home with me.”

“It is not fair. I am mad, sad, angry, confused.”

Occasionally, anger can be directed at the pet, -for leaving us alone. Alone with our pain.

Guilt:
Guilt may be a feeling similar to anger in many ways. Clients often ask me what they did wrong to cause cancer in their pet. We know the cause of a few cancers: second-hand smoking, not neutering a male, not spaying a female. But the cause of most cancers is unknown, just like in people, so blaming yourself is not helping anyone.

“Did I miss something? Did I miss the early symptoms?”

“Could I have done something different? A different diet?”

“Should I have gotten a second (or third) opinion?”

And a classic: “Could I have saved his life if I had seen my vet earlier?”

Depression:
This stage is serious business. It’s okay for a while, but if it lasts too long, you may need to seek help or counseling. Severely grieving pet owners may lose their appetite, have no energy, sleep a lot, have no interest in anything, have difficulty doing simple things or performing their job. They feel extreme sadness. They feel pain. At worst, some pet owners wonder how they can survive without their pet.

“I don’t know what I am going to do.”

“Life will never be the same without her. I am devastated!”

“I miss her so much and I don’t know how I am going to find joy and happiness ever again.”

If you become that overwhelmed, hopefully you will realize it and you will get the help you need. If anything, you could get help from the resources on my web site.

Acceptance:
Acceptance is the end of the tunnel. This stage is when you realize that, ironically, death is part of life. Once you accept your loss, you are able to look at pictures or videos of your pet. Instead of crying, you may actually begin to smile. Your sadness is now tempered by memories of the good times. Life has meaning again.

Sometimes, good things can come out of pet loss, as you will gain wisdom from this experience. You may become more compassionate, more appreciative. Who knows, one day, you may even be able to help someone go through the same grieving process.

Smokie’s owner ended up writing this poem:

“SMOKIE
S is for Smiles, you put upon our faces.
M is for Messes, you made in different places.
O is for One hundred times a month, you’d misbehave.
K is for Kisses, thousands that you gave.
I is for Idiotic, sometime you would be.
E is for Extra-special love you gave our family!”

Most professionals believe that this is an appropriate time to consider adopting another pet. Of course, the pet you lost can never be replaced. There will never, ever be another pet just like him or her. Not even cloning can achieve that.

Once you truly accept that your pet is gone, and once you choose to adopt another one, you will again experience the joy of pet ownership and of unconditional love. And life goes on…

There are many additional resources on the “Pawspice and pet loss” page at http://www.drphilzeltzman.com for all readers to use. All links are totally free. As well as the following service, WINGS.

WINGS, a grief support group in the Lehigh Valley:
As mentioned above, we are starting a pet loss support group in the Lehigh Valley on April 4, 2011. My colleagues at the Lehigh Valley Vet Medical Association ( http://www.valleyvets.org ) and I were always surprised and disappointed that there was no help in our area. So we are thrilled that pet owners in need now have a new resource.

The goal is to meet with other pet lovers who are going through similar difficult times, in a safe, casual, non-judgmental and confidential setting.

In fact, there will two meetings, twice a month, from 6:30 to 8 pm: one in Easton and one in West Allentown (near Lehigh Valley Hospital). The groups are lead by two wonderful, experienced therapists, who happen to be huge pet lovers:

* In the West Allentown area: Maureen Beilman – Licensed Professional Counselor – 610-437-6660
* In the Bethlehem area: Joanne Krug – DA Psychologist – 610-865-0110

Who should attend? Pet lovers who:

* Recently lost their pet
* Feel sad around the anniversary of a pet’s loss
* Have a pet with a terminal disease
* Are considering euthanizing their pet

If you are interested, please contact the therapists directly.

One of those weeks

I am not sure what it has been about this week in particular, but it has been a tough one.  It may be the weather changing back and forth from warm to cold or my schedule just has me exhausted so my emotions are a bit tender.  There have also been a few conversations with the neighborhood kids about Kai.  They firmly believe he is in heaven with one of the dogs in the neighborhood that recently died.  These discussions with 12 year olds are bittersweet.  I hope they are right when they say we will all see Kai and Gizzy, his neighborhood friend, again and that Gizzy is no longer afraid when Kai barks at her.  He loved to bark!

The picture above is from February 2004.  Kai got some new shoes to protect his paws from the bitter cold outside that winter.  He never did get fully used to them and walked with a very high step anytime he had the shoes on.  He took it in stride and enjoyed the giggles he received as he walked.

Looking back

It has been a sad few weeks.  Our sorrow for Kai continues – added to this several animal friends of ours have died.  Hearing of the losses of such beloved pets brings forth all the pain I experienced in losing Kai.  I am so sad for the families that no longer have their dog or cat.  I am thinking of you and praying.

In looking back over things, I can honestly say I made the right decision in not going back to school this past August.  Nothing could have prepared us or indicated to us that Kai was going to be so sick, but in hindsight something really pushed me not to go back to school.  I can only imagine how things may have been had I gone back.  The stresses of classes which could not be missed, the financial burden and having to leave our precious boy alone on the days when he felt so sick are things I did not have to worry about.  I may not have been there when he needed me and he may have died alone.  I am thankful I was there.

Thinking now of the vet tech classes and then ultimately working in a veterinary clinic, leaves me with feelings of despair.  I do not think each day I could go to work knowing a sick animal may come in and possibly die on my watch.  Add to this the thought that in some way an error on my part may cause an animal unneeded pain or injury, I am just not capable at this point in my life in handling those stressors nor do I have the desire to be around that misery.  I understand each day is not filled with sadness.  There are joyful times, but it just isn’t for me.

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