By Ingrid King
Those of us who consider a pet a member of the family will sooner or later experience the pain of loss, and it can be as devastating as the loss of any loved one.
That doesn't mean you'll get much sympathy from those who don't see pets the way you do.
"Much of society is not aware of the strength of the human-animal bond, so pet loss is often seen as 'disenfranchised loss,' meaning it is not socially recognized," says Joelle Nielsen, a veterinary social worker at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
"For some, the insensitivity of others can be more painful than the grief from the actual loss," says Marty Tousley, a bereavement counselor at Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix. "Most people don't tell someone to go get a new spouse or child within a month of one dying."
Knowing that you're not alone in your grief is important, as is realizing that the loss of a pet is a unique experience for each individual. Factors that play into how the loss is handled include whether the death was sudden or followed a prolonged illness, whether the pet owner had to elect euthanasia, whether it was the first time the person experienced losing a pet, and the person's living situation. Single pet owners for whom the pet was a primary source of emotional support tend to have more difficulty recovering.
Here are some tips to help you cope:
-- Mark the pet's passing with some sort of ritual. Rituals such as memorial services and burial ceremonies are an accepted part of human loss, and can be just as healing after losing a pet. Even something as simple as lighting a candle in your pet's memory can help.
-- Find supportive family and friends. Not everyone will be able to handle your grief. It is important to find people who are comfortable letting you cry, listening while you talk about your pet or just sitting quietly with you.
-- Find a pet-loss hotline or support group. Many veterinary schools offer free pet-loss hotlines staffed with trained volunteers who will listen and offer compassionate support. Pet-loss support groups can also be found through pet cemeteries or crematories, shelters, and veterinary hospitals.
"Pet-loss groups are not the same as group therapy," says Tousley. "Their purpose is to offer a safe, structured place where people bound by the experience of loss can come together."
Numerous online support groups are available 24 hours a day. Both Nielsen and Tousley recommend that pet owners who feel unable to function normally or who feel that they are not progressing in their grief process seek professional help.
-- Allow yourself time to grieve. While it's not healthy to get stuck in your grief, pretending that nothing is wrong is equally unhealthy. "A person's grief is legitimate and real, regardless of anyone else's comments, behavior or opinions," says Tousley. Nielsen adds, "You are not 'crazy' -- what you are experiencing is normal."
The old adage that time heals all wounds applies to pet loss as well. As you work through your grief, you'll find that there will come a day when you'll wake up in the morning and your first thought will not be about how much you miss your pet, but about a happy memory of the time you spent together.
Ingrid King is a member of the Pet Connection staff and the author of "Buckley's Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher."
for many small dogs
Q: Our daughter and son-in-law gave us a Yorkie puppy a few months ago. We've never had a tiny dog before, but we're getting older, so smaller is better. We love her, except for one thing: She's not housebroken. We've had dogs all our lives, and never before had one who didn't "get it." We've read on the Internet that this is a problem for small dogs, and that some will never be trained. Please tell us that's not true. My husband will not tolerate keeping a dog in diapers, and I'm tired of cleaning.
A: Small dogs can indeed be difficult to house-train, for a couple of different reasons. One of the major problems is inconsistency on the part of the owner. A Great Dane who isn't house-trained is a much bigger problem than a Yorkie with the same bad behavior. A lot of people with small dogs decide it's just easier to clean up a little mess now and then instead of working on a big training problem.
But little dogs can be house-trained. Toy-breed expert Darlene Arden says you have to start by looking at things from a little dog's point of view.
For example, you have to make sure your dog feels safe in the outdoor spot you've chosen for her. A dog's guard is down during the act of elimination. And when a dog weighs 10 pounds or less, it's important for her to feel she's not going to be attacked. "They feel vulnerable," says Arden. "You need to find that one very safe spot for them." And keep the grass short so the dog doesn't feel as if she's hacking through a jungle, she adds.
Despite the special challenges the small dog presents, Arden says house-training is possible. Once your dog has that safe spot outside, you can teach her to use it with the aid of a schedule, praise and a dedication to consistency.
"Feed on a schedule," says Arden. "You must take your dog out after he eats, after play, after any kind of stimulation. Take a special treat and your happiest voice to the special spot. The moment the puppy's feet hit the ground, get excited." When the deed is done, says Arden, praise to the heavens and deliver the treat.
Limiting a dog's range in the house helps, too. "I'm a firm believer in crate-training -- as a tool, not a punishment," says Arden. "A crate keeps a dog out of trouble when you can't watch him."
Mistakes are part of the learning process and should never be punished. "If you see the dog starting to go in the house, pick him up and run him to that special spot," says Arden, and praise him when he finishes up outside.
Start from the beginning. Clean up past mistakes with an enzymatic cleaner, restrict her range in the house, take her outside and praise her for getting it right. If problems continue, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can observe your interactions and set up a program just for you and your dog. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Small cats share
stripes with tigers
-- If told to imagine a "typical" cat, you're doing well if you think "tiger-striped." That's because the tabby pattern, with its familiar stripes, is the most common in all of catdom. It's so dominant that even some apparently solid-colored cats can be discovered, on close inspection, to have faint stripes, especially on their heads, legs and tails.
"Tabby" is a general term for striped cats, and tabbies come in many colors and patterns -- more than 40 varieties in all. Red tabbies seem to have a special following and mythology, perhaps because in male cats the red-orange gene is almost always connected with tabby markings, while in females, red-orange cats can be tabbies, tortoiseshells or calicoes.
Tabbies can be further distinguished by differences in the pattern of their stripes. For example, a spotted tabby has gaps in the striping pattern, making the dark color appear as spots. The most recognizable is probably the "mackerel" tabby, with parallel lines placed like the ribs of a fish -- hence the name. All tabby cats carry a special mark in common: an "M" on the top of their heads.
The word "tabby," by the way, is thought to come from "atabi," the name of an ancient silk with a striped pattern.
-- A dog's heart normally beats between 70 to 180 times per minute, with little dogs having a faster heart rate. A puppy will also have a faster pulse -- up to 220 beats per minute. Normal canine body temperature is between 101.5 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a degree either way.
-- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.