You know it’s true. We animal lovers get a raw deal when it comes to mourning the death of our pets. Case in point, a woman who’d lost a companion animal emailed me this: “I feel so guilty for grieving over the loss of my pets over the years…maybe your book will help me to let go of that guilt, as so many people will say, ‘God, it’s only a dog’!!!!”

I wish it were as easily accomplished as my saying to her, “As a bona fide animal chaplain, I absolve you of your guilt here and now!” Say, I wonder how I’d look in a pet-hair-covered leotard and cape?

Seriously though, her feelings are not uncommon. In researching my book, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, I repeatedly heard that people had an easier time getting past the death of a human relative than they did the loss of their pets. This comes as no surprise since our society gives us “permission” to grieve a person’s death. They offer us compassion and patience as we process the feelings of loss.

Surely they would extend that same support to us for our grief over the death of the companions who were by our side 24/7 and who loved us without conditions or complications, right? Nope. Flying in the face of all logic, most people expect us to shrug off that kind of loss; they even perceive us as defective for feeling lingering sorrow or pain. This is absolutely ludicrous! The amount of grief we feel is commensurate with the amount of love we shared with our animal family members. Such feelings are normal and appropriate. However, we mustn’t unconsciously vow to be “stuck” in a negative emotion forever.

Risking loving again is precisely what will heal our hearts, as long as we don’t rush into adopting another pet too soon. We must still work through the worst of our grief beforehand, as denying or burying those feelings can produce disastrous effects in our health and relationships—even those with future pets.

For folks who feel trapped in their grief, try this visualization technique: Imagine your deceased pet’s spirit is working on the Other Side to bring you another pet, one paw picked just for you, to arrive when your heart is ready to receive him or her. This allows you to be open to moving on without fear that you might be betraying his memory. Instead, you’ll be honoring your departed pet by entrusting him to help you choose wisely, to give you a sense of certainty when the right new critter comes along.

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