On Love & Loss: Grieving the Loss of a Four-Legged Family Member

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a subject that we all experience in life, but few of us talk much about--grieving the loss of a loved one.

A few months ago, I watched a Barbra Streisand Netflix concert special and at the very end, I broke down in tears as she gave an incredibly moving tribute to her beloved Coton du Tulear, Samantha, who passed away in May. Like many of us, I could identify with her love for her dog, and the profound sadness she felt at losing her cherished companion. I’ve had dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, gerbils and even a parakeet or two during my life, and I too have felt that pain. I cried because I understood; because I’ve been there.

Last week, I read that she’s the mom of three more dogs, two of which are clones of Samantha. Literally, clones.

This news has brought about much debate on social media and in the papers. Pet cloning, and the cost that accompanies this process, is something that at the very least, in the animal welfare world, may seem wasteful and contrary to our mission to end pet overpopulation. And while I personally believe that the money Ms. Streisand spent cloning her dog could have gone to better use saving countless homeless pets, I was struck by the bigger picture: the pain, and process of losing our four-legged loved ones.

I’ve often read that people deal with grief in their own way and on their own timeline. In my experience, this is absolutely true. I’ve seen the differences, and have learned to respect them, both in my own family and in my professional life. Having spent years as part of the Bideawee team, I’ve seen many different facets of grief, and learned that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The process is as distinctive and personal as the relationships themselves.

Bideawee has two Pet Memorial Parks with more than 65,000 pets buried at these peaceful grounds, and I’ve spent many days looking out over the cemeteries, walking among the headstones, and admiring the personal touches that make every pet tribute special and unique. There is everything from tiny little stones flush against the ground to large headstones that have elaborate etchings of the image of a pet. There are areas for cremains, and areas for sitting and reflecting. There are plots that have beautiful flowers, flags and other mementos. Some people have even chosen to have their cremains buried along with their pets. In addition to our services for pets, Bideawee also has pet loss support loss groups for people who want help in dealing with the sadness that comes with losing our beloved dogs and cats. These groups are open to the public and many individuals find great solace in coming together with others who are experiencing the same loss.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during my time at Bideawee, and my years as a pet parent, it is this: Pets are family members. And when it comes to saying goodbye, the grieving process is not so different than that of our human family. That seems to be the common thread that runs through all of us.

Over the years, I’ve also gleaned a lot about the respective grieving process by overseeing the adoption process. Some individuals come to us shortly after the death of a pet looking for a new dog or cat. They may want one that either resembles the pet they recently lost, or one who looks nothing like them. Some will name a new pet after the previous one. Some will think they are ready to adopt, but then realize they cannot, because none seem to measure up to their departed companion. Still, there are those who cannot even bear the thought of bringing home a new fur baby for months or years.

I’ve heard and seen countless ways that people deal with the grief of losing a pet. I’ve met people who go through extraordinary measures and untold amounts of money to prolong the life of an ill and aging dog or cat. I’ve even met people who have had their pets taxidermied! Truthfully, I thought I’d seen everything. Until now. I hadn’t heard of anyone cloning their pets. And while I don’t criticize Barbra Streisand for her personal choice, I do hope that this is something that doesn’t become commonplace and/or affordable to the masses. So many pets right now are living in shelters in need of homes and families to love them. Why not adopt one of those? So many organizations could do amazing work with a fraction of the money it takes to clone a pet. Why not donate the money to save thousands of dogs and cats?

In conclusion, I hope that no matter how you might deal with the loss of a beloved pet, or how long it may take you to be ready to open your heart to a new family member, that the day will come when you find peace and love with a new pet again. I also hope you remember that when the time comes, Adopt. Don’t Shop. And Don’t Clone Either. Consider donating the money in memory of your dear, beloved pet. It will go so far to save so many.

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