I was surprised to have been quoted (quite accurately I might add) in this online article from the London Free Press. Cool beans—Sid

Society slowly acknowledging pet loss as grief

By LARRY CORNIE, Special to QMI Agency

Last Updated: June 11, 2011 12:03am

KITCHENER – On Monday evening, in a small chapel nestled within the manicured grounds and natural wetlands of Williamsburg Cemetery in southwest Kitchener, nine people gathered, in the company of a funeral director and city staff, to mourn.

It was an emotional meeting. There were tears and disquieting silences. There was ritual. And each person, by their attendance, acknowledged the need for better resources for dealing with the profound loss – of a pet.

In Kitchener, like most other municipalities across the country, a city-sponsored workshop on the subject of pet loss would have been either unthinkable, perhaps even laughable, just two generations ago.

Dogs and cats were mostly kept for utilitarian purposes, usually security and pest control. When they doubled as family pets, they were usually kept outside with access to the shelter of outbuildings.

They were fed once a day with whatever food was handy, including table scraps. Veterinary care, if they got it at all, was limited to emergencies. And when they had the luxury of an assisted death, it came, not at the tip of a euthanizing needle in an animal hospital, but at the barrel of a shotgun behind the barn.

Gradually over the past half-century, we’ve turned a half-circle.

Today the vast majority of Canada’s pets – it’s estimated there are at least 3.5 million dogs and 4.5 million cats – are cared for with a different set of sensibilities.

Most pets are sheltered in homes. Many get regular veterinary care. Some owners will spend thousands of dollars to rescue a family pet from a life-threatening illness or pay out $150 to a vet to save a $10 hamster. Some doggies get day care.

Pet care has become a multibillion-dollar business, including high-end stores complete with bakeshops. And some owners pay as much to cremate a pet as they would a parent or child.

The trend merits more than just passing notice or a roll of the eyeballs. Decades ago, our longing for companionship was met by children, parents or friends who were weekly, if not daily, in our lives. We shared communities, if not parcels of the same tract of land. Today, hundreds of kilometres often separate parents, friends and children. In urban and suburban environments, neighbours are acquaintances, but seldom regular kitchen-table visitors. And the human need for love, loyalty and companionship seeks new avenues.

Lorelei Eckel-Braun, manager of Kitchener Cemeteries (the city owns seven, including a crematorium), says the impetus for creating a workshop on pet loss came from a combination of factors, including the more significant place pets occupy in the average home and “the tremendous amount of suffering that people go through” with the death of a pet. She recruited Dianne Bauer, a funeral director who had done research on pet loss, to conduct Monday’s session.

Those who attended, Bauer said, “wanted practical advice on how they might express their feelings.”

from page E1 Her suggestions included a number of options, from collecting memorabilia for a bookshelf, to photo albums, gardening and making donations to the humane society as a way of honouring their pet.

“As a society, we tend to diminish pet loss,” Bauer said. People will experience comments like, ‘It’s only a pet; for goodness sake, go out and get another one.’ Unfortunately, I’ve heard people say the same about loss of a baby. In both cases it’s dreadful; it shows terrible insensitivity, but it happens all the time.” Those responses, Bauer says, further inhibit expressions of heartfelt emotion.

This week in an interview on an Internet radio show, Minneapolis-based chaplain Sid Korpi, author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, sounded a similar note about social acceptance of grief following the passing of a pet.

“Our society does not sanction it. They don’t give you support, on the whole, for grieving an animal. They’re there for you if you lose a parent, child, spouse or friend or whatever – and that’s wonderful – but they seem to have a kind of compassion fatigue kick in (when it comes to pets). . . . You can just see ‘the look.’ ” “It’s an area that needs to be explored – there are all kinds of possibilities,” said Eckel-Braun, adding this week’s workshop was only an experimental first step. A second event is planned for Sept. 15.

The times, Bob Dylan said, are a-changin’. And it’s time many of us – myself included – begin to realize that this type of pain and loss is as real as any other.

cornies@gmail.com

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