anne_mikolay_120There's a lot I could write about this week: the announcement that Michael Jackson's death is being investigated as a “homicide;” the possible selection of Randal Pinkett, winner of Donald Trump's “The Apprentice” competition in 2005, as Governor Corzine's running mate; or President Obama's appearance at the PNC Bank Arts Center on Thursday, July 16th, in support of the Governor. On the lighter side, I could report on the latest maneuvers of my husband's backyard nemesis, Mr. Groundhog,   or my little chihuahua's foiled, comical attempts to escape her harness. However, my present mood is neither political nor humorous. My mind is focused on two friends who are grieving the loss of their respective dogs.

“Non-dog” people will, no doubt, hardly find this topic intriguing, and will be even less interested in grief support for pet owners. To non-pet lovers, pets are merely animals on a leash, “just a dog,” or “just a cat.” The rest of us know better. Our pets are family members. As such, their loss is deeply felt. Pet loss is a very personal, very important, deeply emotional issue.

callie
Callie

corky
Corky

Both Callie and Corky were cute-as-a-button yorkies, the kind of dogs you just want to pick up and cuddle. They lived long, full, happy lives. Corky's family was with him when he passed; Callie's family got to see her enjoying her last swim in the lake before she collapsed. These families are comforted by countless memories, poignant images of Callie and Corky that also tug the heart-strings as the families move through their grief.

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced the five stages of human grief: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger, depression, acceptance.  The grieving process for pets is no different. According to www.pet-loss-matters, the symptoms of pet grief include shock, anxiety, helplessness, yearning, and can be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, stomach problems, or muscle weakness, and reactive behaviors, like crying, clutching the pet's toys or blankets, and dreaming about the pet. Bottom line: losing a pet hurts. Whether or not you are a pet lover, you have to accept that fact, and lend emotional support without judgment to those in need.

I first experienced pet loss when I was a young adolescent, and my blue parakeet died in her sleep on Mother's Day. I was devastated. She had been my constant joy, always perched on my shoulder, or chirping nearby. My grief at her loss was profound. For a long time, I couldn't even look at a photo of her without crying. Years passed. I accepted her loss. But to this day, I miss her.

So it is with a sense of understanding and compassion that I offer my condolences to the families of Corky and Callie, and encourage them to share their grief with one another, and with friends. The internet is rife with moving poems and prayers about pet loss, but the most comforting one that stands out in my mind is a phrase by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “God's finger touched Him, and He slept.”

Sleep well, Corky and Callie. Sleep well.