Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Sacramento Magazine
Anyone who has experienced the death of a pet knows the grief is real.
Just ask Shanie Bradley. "I still can't look at her pictures without getting a big lump in my throat," says Bradley, whose dog Ginger (Ginny) died unexpectedly this past summer. "Her ashes sit in a beautiful box on top of our entertainment center with her collar and tag on top, and her paw print is right next to it on a ceramic tile."
Keeping collars, tags and other items associated with your pet is a healthy way to process the loss of a being that provided unconditional love, according to Florence Soares-Dabalos, client support and wellness professional at William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis. She also recommends employing rituals such as making a photo journal, writing a letter and holding a funeral, especially if children are involved. "Whatever you would do for a human loved one, why not do for your pet as well?" she says.
People may find support through a support group, grief counselor or crisis line, but Soares-Dabalos recommends caution in confiding in friends or family members who many not respect the magnitude of pet loss. "If somebody dismisses or minimizes their grief, that person does not understand the depth of the human and animal bond," says Soares-Dabalos, who has provided support and education to people over the loss of cats, dogs, horses, pigs, chickens and iguanas.
How can someone help? "Just be there," says Soares-Dabalos. "Listening is doing something. Validating is doing something."
Soares-Dabalos reminds us that grief is an individual experience. "It will take time. There will be ups and downs," she says. Above all, she says, express your grief. "It's not something that people need to hide or be ashamed of, because there are plenty of us animal lovers who do understand."