When my dog died, we had been living in San Francisco a city that boasts more pets than children, where pet-friendly restaurants are more the norm than the exception and water bowls dot the front doorway of many businesses.
So, I was in luck, my SPCA not only had a Pet Loss Group, but it was also staffed by a psychiatrist specializing in pet loss.
The SPCA is next door to a massive no-kill shelter. So, the night of the group I was a little lost but finally found my way around to a classroom where the group was to meet. It was a cramped little kid classroom with little kid chairs and little kid art on the wall.
Despite being lost, I was first to arrive and when the next two people came in, we did not say hi or anything. Because I looked at them and they looked at me and we didn’t have anything in common. I thought good there are only three of us. I’ll have a lot of time to tell them about how Chance wasn’t just a gift to me, but he was a gift to the whole world.
But they just kept coming. A woman in her late 90’s and two college kids which is weird. They looked too cool for this. Within a few minutes, all shapes all sizes, and all colors of people arrived. To look at this group without any context would leave you totally perplexed as to what would have brought us together, and therein lies one of the things we loved most about our animals. They did not care how old or young or rich or poor or black or brown or white we are.
In this ragtag makeshift circle of big adults in little chairs, I counted 19 grievers, 2 graduate students, and the therapist moderator. The moderator asked us to go around the circle and talk about our pets. When 1 hour and 13 minutes had gone by, it was my turn, I was number 19 and we were 13 minutes past when the meeting was supposed to end. So, I said I don’t need to go. But they said go.
The stories I had heard were as varied as the pets being mourned. One person said their pet Bosco died and get this; Bosco was a lizard. I thought you have got to be kidding. But as it turned out, Bosco had provided love and companionship and his lifespan had been too short just like all the cats and dogs.
The other thread that wove nearly all the stories together was the person regretting what they did or did not do, blaming themselves for not noticing something sooner or leaving the gate lock or second-guessing their decision to put their pet down. The stories all started with a version of my pet was amazing and quickly devolved into what-ifs and I should haves.
I knew that if I told them how great Chance was and how I torture myself about not taking him to the vet when I first noticed the lump, but that wouldn’t make a bit of difference to assuage my guilt or alleviate their suffering.
So, instead, I said, my dog’s name was Chance, and I was and am devastated by his death. But rather than tell you about his greatness, I will show you. Close your eyes. Just for a moment, I promise. Think about your pet, the part where you told us about how brave or funny, they were. How Bosco sat on your shoulder while you two watched Netflix and how Loki was not supposed to be on the bed and how that rule did not even last one night.
Would this incredible light want you to punish yourselves with what-ifs or regrets? No. The answer is no. Honor them by tapping into the joy that you shared. Open your eyes.
Weeks later, I still could not get that pet loss group experience out of my head. People need support and love during this difficult time. The group I went to only meets once a month. If someone’s pet died the day after this group met, they would have to wait a whole month to attend.
I wondered what other support exists and I was amazed to find that Pet Loss support is not common, hotlines are even rarer.
So, I am rounding-up resources your pet would want you to have and for now, I am calling it BlossDog.