Group offers support in time of loss
Taking a cute puppy or kitten into one's life is the easy part. But its 10-to-15-year lifespan passes quickly and the pet owner is often left too soon with a hard goodbye. The loss of a trusted companion can manifest in real, gut-wrenching grief without customs in place to help ease the pain. When a beloved pet dies, friends and family may not be as sympathetic as they would at the loss of a human.
That's why, four years ago, Diane Parkhurst started a pet loss support group out of Cloquet's Friends of Animals Humane Society. Over the years she's talked, listened and cried with many pet owners struggling to work through grief that their own family members sometimes just don't
"Dogs are always there for you," Parkhurst says. "They're never too busy, never distracted. They don't care if you've had a bad day and the
whole world hates you. Their love is unconditional. Yet, when that dog dies people will say, 'For Pete's sake, just get another animal.'
They just don't understand."
According to Parkhurst, the stages of grief for pet loss are like any grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression and finally
acceptance. Complicating matters further, pet owners often have to make the decision to euthanize a pet, which can make the feeling of
guilt even stronger.
Kathy Neumann of Cloquet watched as Angel, her beloved 14-year-old German
Shepherd, deteriorated rapidly this spring. The dog wasn't eating or drinking, she was blind in one eye and often disoriented. It was time to let her go, but it was an agonizing decision.
"The vet told me that I'd know when it's time to put her down, but it's the hardest thing to do," said Neumann. "She was my everything."
Neumann had been stubbornly set against having a dog when her daughter finally talked her into getting Angel as a puppy. She absolutely
did not want to deal with dog hair in her spotless home. But when Neumann ended up bedridden for a period of time, the two bonded and became
"Angel changed me completely. She taught me love and compassion. I am more down-to-earth now and don't worry about things like dog hair anymore," said Neumann, choked with tears. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her."
Neumann won't even consider getting another dog. But for some, a new companion is just what they need to fill the void.
Debbie Davis waited a month to adopt a new dog after her beloved Maltese-mix, Holly, died unexpectedly of a tumor. The Davises have three
other dogs, but Holly was a blind rescue dog with a spunky personality who stole their hearts.
"We adopted a little Shih Tzu. We wanted something needy that we could pour a lot of love into like we did with Holly," said Davis. "She's
not Holly, but she does take my mind off (being sad)."
Some people with an aging dog will plan ahead and get a puppy so they won't have a void to fill. Parkhurst says that can work well but care
should be taken so the puppy doesn't stress the older dog or divert too much attention. Some pet owners also want to replace the missing pet with
another of the same breed and coloring.
"Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't work at all," she said. "Each dog is amazing in their own right. You can't replace them. But if you're open to having another animal there are many out there needing homes."
The Friends of Animals Pet Loss Support Group is a safe place to share stories about beloved animals and work through grief with
people who understand. The group meets as needed, generally once a month on Thursdays.
Call Parkhurst at 218-879-7395 or Friends of Animals at 879-1655 for more information.
"It might sound like I think I'm the only person in the world who lost a dog," said Davis who has been part of the support group a few
times over the years, "But that's how I feel right now. When (Holly) died it was like a piece of me flew right out the window."
June Kallestad is a freelance writer whose cat, Elvis,
purrs happily in her lap while she works.