By Michelle Mullins, CPDT-KA
Whether it is from sudden, traumatic illness/injury or from a slower, expected loss due to age, the loss of a pet is a terrible experience. The grief over it is often overwhelming and can be especially difficult when others show less empathy than they might because it was “just a pet”.
I am very fortunate that I do not have many people in my life, both personal and professional, who do not fully understand it as a loss of a family member to me. This is one of the comforts I find in working in the pet industry. My husband and I lost our sweet kitty last fall and while I was surrounded not only by friends and family but by co-workers who supported me through it, my husband did not have the same experience at his job.
I am sure some of his team would have been sympathetic yet he didn’t feel he could share this with them. He had concerns about how they might view his mourning of a cat. I think this has made the loss harder for him to deal with. I didn’t hesitate to share my loss at work as I knew I would have unfailing support during those first few days from those around me from 9 to 5. Coming to work and having that support made the loss easier to bear.
While we enjoyed Wolfie for 18 years and know we did everything we could and ultimately chose to let him go so he wouldn’t suffer any longer, it didn’t make the grief less painful. The healing has taken a long time and continues. I was fortunate to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah a couple of months ago. They do amazing work helping homeless animals with a variety of programs.
I want to share with you how my visit helped me heal. It wasn’t the visit to the dogs, all prancing and adorable at Dogtown. It wasn’t the horses or pigs, who are just having a blast in their fields. It wasn’t even the cats who proudly display their unique purrsonalities in fantastically enriched environments at Cat World. It was the time at Angel’s Rest, the pet cemetery.
The Gate to Angel's Rest
Even months after losing Wolfie, I found my grief rise to the surface as I strolled through poignant beauty of Angel’s Rest. Each memorial so personal, marked with little colored memory stones, pictures, mementos that are perfect in honoring the memory of a beloved animal.
Some marked the resting place of a homeless animal that resided at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. But I question whether they were truly homeless as I witnessed the heartfelt care given them in the most beautiful of settings and as I myself shed tears at their grave. They were loved by all of us who work to make the lives of animals better.
Other plots are for someone’s beloved companion. A cat, a horse, pig, bird, bunny or dog. Some had collars with tags around them and those were the hardest for me to see. Maybe it’s because I work here at Premier and I think about all the collars we send out and how they each will find their way to a special animal. To see those collars made those losses so real to me.
And then there are the wind chimes. Hundreds of chimes that give voice to the souls lost and loved in this place. The music surrounds you like the breeze and comforts you. The entire canyon becomes for that moment a most beautiful memorial to all. I left a part of my grief there, blown away on the wind and I picture Wolfie playing there sometimes, as I know he would have loved this place.
Whether they live with us, live in a shelter, live at a sanctuary or live in our memories, they are all ours. Ours to love and protect and honor.