Pet Loss & Animal Assisted Therapy

Our pets are our companions and our comfort. They are also an expression of how we live our lives and who we might be if the bounds were off. They share our joys and our burdens and sometimes our carrots. They also reflect parts of ourselves back to us, as the outer world often does, but in the special lovable way that only animals can. A dear dog companion can fill so many places in the heart that it’s hard to imagine. Cats free to roam remind us of the agile movers we all have within us. All the ferrets and guinea pigs and chinchillas in our homes and our hearts serve a very significant purpose in our lives.

Our animals can also play a very essential and helpful part of getting the most out of a therapeutic moment. Animal-assisted therapy can take many forms. Their simple presence in a therapy session alters the warmth in the room. Animals can connect us to lost parts of ourselves in a way that only nature can. They remind us of our impulses and our instincts. They show us the impeccable way to effectively use the fight, flight and freeze maneuvers that our bodies have given us for our survival – uninhibited by the human thinking mind. They offer the uncomplicated connection, the unconditional experience. Bring your pet, or I’ll bring mine and let’s see why they found you.

A special focus of care: Grief When Our Beloved Pet Dies. Our Dogs (kelev… k’lev) are like our hearts

Our beloved dogs and cats and other creature pets can be companions on a level that is difficult for many of us to define. Pets are satisfying to the touch and cheerful for the spirit. They fill the voids and aches left by humans and remind us to stay in touch with the joyful moment, the calling of nature and the unconditional heart. Pets offer us the uncomplicated relationship. Their companionship can teach us to love and trust and be, when life may have taught us otherwise. It is no wonder that when they are sick and dying so too is a part us.

Grief, we know and expect, comes with the loss of a human companion. Grief, we know, can make us moody, softer, harder and off balance, and it can take a long time before we feel the bounce of our groove again. So when a beloved pet dies it too brings on grief. Sometimes grief is so intense we can’t get off the floor and for some reason, we don’t know why. Well, we know our connection to the dog was strong and yet why is it that we so often seem perplexed that we feel so much pain and loss when they leave us or die. With the loss the value and depths of this relationship are revealed and for others to see. This loss, just as the loss of human connections, brings real, honest and justifiable pain.

It also often brings a lifetime of pains not felt. We live in a culture that values strength and emotional control in the face of unbelievable stress and traumatizing experiences. When the dog dies, it gives us access to the unfelt grief from other times in our lives when we didn’t let ourselves breakdown. Sometimes the grief is the loss of the dog partially because of the void it filled from the disappointments from humans, and the pain is the loss of the pet and the pain of what wasn’t. Loss brings on other loss. It is why we often cry at funerals for other people long departed.

Grief has a way of staying in the body waiting for us to give it its day; or days for mourning. It waits, like undigested food for a way to be processed and then released. But grief often needs a witness, as many cultures around the world offer rituals for public grieving. It acknowledges the pain and loss and helps us to move along the sad path of grief.  So too with our dogs and cats and goats and donkeys and birds and other crawling creatures. They are in our hearts and in our minds and bodies, and they are truly a part of us, and their loss is worthy of mourning. And your pain is worthy of an understanding witness.

© The Hollow Path Experiential Therapy