Dealing with the loss of a pet

March 21, 2011
DAD Editor Kevin Henry interviews Dr. Diane Pomerance, who created, established, and serves as director of the Pet Grief Counseling Program for the SPCA of Texas. Dr. Pomerance explains how grief is different from just loss, and offers tips to help you cope with your grief when you experience the loss of a beloved pet.

By Kevin Henry, Editor

Editor's Note: There are few moments in life that can prepare us for the death of a loved one. For many of us, me included, that also means the death of a pet. As editor of Dental Assisting Digest, I believe part of my job is not only to help you grow and prosper in the dental practice, but also in your personal life. So while this article may not help you with impressions or case presentations, I hope it will help you during a rough time in your life.

I recently spoke with Dr. Diane Pomerance, who created, established, and serves as director of the Pet Grief Counseling Program for the SPCA of Texas. She is the author of numerous articles and the highly acclaimed books, When your Pet Dies; Animal Companions: Your Friends, Teachers, & Guides; Animal Companions: In Our Hearts, Our Lives, & Our World; Animal Elders: Caring About Our Aging Animal Companions; Finding Peace after the Loss of a Loved Animal Companion; and Pet Parenthood: Adopting the Right Animal Companion for You. She is also the writer/performer of the books’ accompanying audio CDs. She lives in North Texas with her husband and numerous canine “kids.”

Kevin Henry: I know you started your quest to help others after the loss of one of your own rescue animals, right?

Dr. Diane Pomerance: My husband, who is a dentist, and I take in rescued dogs. We currently live with 22 rescue dogs, and we've rescued more than 45 over the years. Shortly after we moved from Los Angeles to Dallas, one of my first rescue dogs, Caesar, passed away. During that same year, I had lost my dad to cancer and other friends to various illnesses, but when Caesar died, I grieved so profoundly that I was shocked. We had rehabbed him and adopted him as a hurt, homeless pet. My grief was deep, and I soon learned that there are 40 different kinds of loss that comprise grief. It's a very complex, powerful issue, and it's not understood by most people.

I quickly learned that there was no support group for people who had lost their pets. I also learned that people were ashamed and embarrassed to talk about how much they hurt after the death of their pet, who was also a beloved family member. We started a program through the SPCA in Dallas and have a grief support group that meets every month.

Henry: What is your advice to those who are suffering from the loss of a pet?

Dr. Pomerance: Know that you're not alone. Don't be ashamed of your grief. Express it where you can because it is truly a loss in your life. We've become a more detached society because of the Internet, but we still have our pets with us. They are as close to us as anything, and they offer unconditional love. There is a huge void in our lives when one is lost. Every animal has a gift to share with us, and it's unconditional.

Henry: You mentioned earlier how grief is so much stronger than just loss. What is the tipping point for a person to go into "grief?"

Dr. Pomerance: Really, you lose control over your emotions when grief occurs. You isolate. You withdraw. You feel all alone. You get angry. You cry uncontrollably. You may feel deep sadness or depression. You may feel anxious, fearful, frustrated, or impatient. It is as though you are on an emotional roller coaster. That's the tipping point. Everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time. But again, talk to others and get help with how to deal with your grief. Remember that grief is a normal, natural, and healthy process and response to loss.

Henry: Let's say your grief is affecting your work. How do you suggest dealing with your feelings while not letting your job performance suffer?

Dr. Pomerance: Simply explain what is going on. When you lose that bond with an animal, you have to take time to collect yourself. Allow yourself to take that time to collect yourself and truly grieve. It's OK to say you're not OK. It's also important to find a way to cope. Express your feelings. Find those who are sympathetic to what you're going through. Write down your feelings. A lot can build up and culminate with the loss of a pet, but loss is inevitable. Everyone deals with it differently, and you have to find a way to deal with it when the time comes.

For more information, visit Dr. Pomerance’s Web site.