Easy methods to take care of unintended loss of life of a pet

But we didn’t have a leash that morning. Before, when we were in the kitchen getting ready to go, my friend said the leash was on the third floor. When the dogs sensed an imminent departure, they sprinted around us, barked and crashed into furniture. Frustrated, I took Suzy and said, “I’ll just wear her. Let’s go.”

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I remembered holding Suzy in my arms as I got on and off the leash in the park, but when we got back to my friend’s house in the East End of Pittsburgh, that had crossed my mind. Suzy sped past us without a leash. But instead of following Bob, she ran out into the street.

What happened next – the blur of a black SUV and Suzy’s scream as she died – sticks in our minds.

Mourning the loss of a pet is often as painful as mourning a close friend or relative. But being responsible for and witnessing your pet’s death can add guilt, trauma, and shame to the heartache. And as we discovered after Suzy’s death, this emotional tribute hinders the grieving process.

The pet industry has started helping people with grief. Veterinary social work is a growing profession, and pet grief groups are widespread. Cheri Barton Ross, an associate professor of psychology at Santa Rosa Junior College, is a pioneer in this field. After some one-on-one conversations with pet owners through her husband’s California veterinary office, she began hosting pet loss support groups in 1986 because she found that groups work better because they allow people to see that they are not alone.

“People often felt embarrassed and isolated in their grief for a pet,” she said. “As deep as these bonds go, whatever you love, that is how deep you will often mourn.” She also said that people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder if they witness their pet accidentally die. “With couples or families, you either pull yourself apart or together in this crisis,” said Ross, co-author of Pet Loss and Human Emotion. “They could blame each other or themselves and not be able to navigate through different stages of grief.”

My girlfriend and I all blamed the death of our first pet together. We got Suzy because we had time to work from home during the pandemic to raise a puppy together. Talking through what happened eased the grief and brought us closer. However, she initiated the talks and I was reluctant to participate. After eight years of therapy, I know it’s important to articulate emotions, but part of me mistakenly believed that not talking about the accident would distract me from the image of Suzy’s lifeless body and make the pain go away faster.

My upbringing increased my reluctance. When I was a boy in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, my father competed in dog sledding, and our family had a kennel of huskies along the driveway of our six car garage. Some of our pets tragically died, especially our wolf, but we never talked about them. The family motto was: “It’s over; go on. “Whenever my friend raised Suzy, I had to check my impulses to vomit my father’s response again. And then I’d tell the truth,” I repeat how she gets run over in my head every day. ”

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Walking past the scene of the accident often triggered a review. Ross said this was so common that she had customers moving to escape bad memories. People also avoid certain streets. Kevin Nicholson, a 41-year-old cybersecurity information engineer who I met on a page on the Pet Loss Group on Facebook, told me on the phone that he hasn’t turned left off his Long Island Street since early March because that’s Lulu , His family’s 1-year-old Cavapoo, who slipped off her harness while walking, got into traffic and died.

Paweenudh Suanpan stopped driving on a section of Route 108 in Maryland in 2017 after a teenage driver crashed her car there in 2017. Piper, Suanpan’s Chocolate Labrador Retriever, who was sitting in the back seat, was thrown so hard that she was paralyzed and had to be euthanized. “I have to go back there and close the loop,” said Suanpan, 34, “but I just haven’t done it yet.”

Suanpan, a special education advocate for dog seat belts, said she still accuses herself of not securing Piper, just as my friend is still beating herself up for opening the car door and I can’t forgive myself I didn’t run up to get that leash

“Everyone blames themselves,” said Dani McVety, a veterinarian who co-founded the Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, an in-home end-of-life care provider that also holds online meetings in support of Hosted Pet Losses Online. “Whether you’ve had an accident or came home to find that your 15-year-old dog died naturally, there is always a feeling of guilt.” Owners could blame themselves for not realizing their pet was sick sooner or for knowing they are sick but waiting too long to be euthanized.

Deciding when to euthanize is difficult. Kristeen McPherson, an accountant I also met through a Pet Loss Group page on Facebook, and her husband euthanized Carly, her 12-year-old golden retriever, after surgery and chemotherapy failed to keep the dog’s cancer in check. McPherson, a 60-year-old resident of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said she felt guilty despite the medical procedures because, “If it were me, I hope they wouldn’t bring me down and just keep trying and trying.”

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McPherson said her dog is more of a family member than a pet. The description of such a pet has become the norm, and it’s a fundamental change from how it was treated a generation ago. Raising more than $ 100 billion each year, the pet industry has called it the humanization of pet animals.

Debbie Stoewen, a veterinarian who became a social worker in 2005 to help pet owners grieve, said the evolution of the human-animal bond can also be seen in how many pets sleep in their owners’ beds today, known as furbabies become. “The emotionality of the pet owners we now call pet parents is so deep and complex,” said Stoewen, who lives in Ontario, Canada. “This heightened bond increases the grief.”

My girlfriend and I grieved differently. She told her close friends and family in private, and the more she talked, the better she felt. Such was my shame that I wanted to get another Australian cattle dog with a blunt tail, name her Suzy, and not tell anyone. As a childless 40 year old, part of my identity was tied to being a dog owner and I was afraid that people would think I wasn’t a good one.

After talking to my therapist, I finally opened up to people. But the shame didn’t abate until I joined a private Facebook group devoted to grieving for dead dogs and discovering how many other people had lost pets in car accidents.

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Lindsey A. Wolko, founder of the Pet Safety Center, wrote in an email that there are no official statistics showing how many dogs are killed by cars each year. But it happens so often that emergency vets have a term for it – HBC (hit by car). McVety, who worked at an emergency vet hospital in Florida early in her career in the mid-2000s, said she sometimes saw five HBCs a night. The term also applies to cats; McVety said that, like dogs, they are often accidentally run over by their owners in the driveway.

Stoewen, the veterinarian / social worker who runs the veterinary services of Pet Plus Us, a Canadian pet health insurance company, said she could relate to what I’ve been through. One morning 20 years ago, one of her dogs escaped her yard and was run over. The experience helped her become a better veterinarian and dog owner, she said. “The way you lost that pet is a part of you, like an imprint. You will be so much more careful and deliberate with your next dog. “

According to Ross, the psychology professor, there is no right or wrong time to adopt a new dog. She said her only advice was to make sure the new dog is not a replacement for the deceased: “No matter what, you will mourn this loss.”

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My girlfriend and I learned that lesson too. A few days after Suzy passed away, we got another Australian cattle dog because a breeder had a puppy available and we wanted an instant shot at redemption. It was’nt easy. By the time we worked through our trauma, playing with the new puppy we named Isabelle made us feel even more guilty to Suzy, and we were scared when we escorted her on a busy street or got out of the car.

Bob, my border collie mix, probably wishes we’d waited longer. Like Suzy, Isabelle is a natural shepherd and constant nipper.

Gavin Jenkins is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer who has written for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Vice, Mel, Prevention, Outline, and Narrative.

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