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How to cope with grief after the loss of a pet

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It is said that having a pet provides many days of joy and happiness and at least one day of sorrow. The loss of a fur baby can be as difficult as the death of a human family member or friend, with each individual processing the grief differently.

Robert Pastore, of Munster, lost his Great Dane Sally to stomach torsion and still misses her a great deal four years later.

“My daughter went to pet her before going to bed and came running in to my room to tell me that Sally’s stomach looked all swollen like a balloon,” he said. “I took her to the emergency veterinarian and was advised to put her down because the toxins already in her system would give her heart failure in the next few days. It was very sad and just devastating to kneel next to this muscular, otherwise healthy dog as she was put to sleep.”

Liz Mudroncik, also of Munster, has had to put down at least four dogs. She noted that she and her family bond with their pets and find it very emotional to lose one.

When the Mudronciks lost their 12- to 13-year-old beagle, Cookie, Mudroncik said her husband, Mike, took it the hardest. He had been very attached to Cookie, who was euthanized after collapsing.

The Mudroncik’s dog Twix, a sheltie mix, was 8 and still spry, but a brain tumor was causing increasingly frequent seizures.

“It was the hardest thing to do to realize that even brain surgery wasn’t going to help,” Liz Mudroncik said. “My daughter and I took Twix to an animal hospital for an overnight stay so they could try treatment, but it didn’t work. We went there to say goodbye and it was just the hardest thing, especially since she had been unresponsive, but when we were there, she picked up her head and looked at us. Unfortunately, the veterinarian said it wasn’t a sign that she would get better.”

Mudroncik has her own way of handling grief. “My mourning process is I walk around the house and it’s empty, and I realize I need a new dog,” she explained. “While I totally miss the one that just passed, we want to open our home to another dog who needs a home, and therefore, we always adopt.”

She now has two rescue dogs, and one of them, Barkley, has special needs. He was abused and lived in foster homes and a shelter, so it’s taking time for him to open up, she said. The Mudronciks got another dog, Baxter, to help Barkley feel comfortable.

Catherine Osborne, a licensed clinical social worker, director/therapist at Human Nature Arts in Highland and a certified pet loss bereavement counselor, said the pain of the loss of a pet can run deep and may be a shock, especially if the death was traumatic or unexpected. She noted that  pet parents often feel like people around them don’t understand their devastation. 

“It actually can be more difficult than losing a person, due to the unconditional love from a pet,” she said. “Our pets have more access to us than most of the humans we interact with, and our pets are always there for us.”

Osborne hopes to offer a free pet-loss support group and encourages those who are struggling to get counseling. She said she doesn't charge for pet counseling because she does it from her heart, as so many people were there for her when she lost her pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says on its website that humans create a special bond with their pet that some might find difficult to understand but notes that “grief is normal and the relationship you shared with your special friend needs to be mourned.”

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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