Tribeca Therapist Offers Help to Those Grieving for Their Pets

 |  Feb 1st 2011  |   4 Contributions


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The following story appeared in the Tribeca Trib, and offers a look into grief therapy for animal owners.

It struck a chord with me. I lost my 19-year-old cat in December, and although his passing was not unexpected, I was wracked with guilt over his final days, wondering if I could have done something to keep him going. I was depressed and distracted. I hadn't expected that his death would affect me so profoundly, given his age and declining health.

Fortunately, no one said, "Well, it's just a cat." I think those words justify homicide. Which is why you should consider going to Pet Bereavement counseling after you've lost a pet ... especially if you don't get the kind of support you need from friends and family.

The number of animal grief therapists continues to grow, and if you live in a metropolitan area, you should be able to find one and attend enough sessions to get you over the hump. It's money well spent.

Tribeca Therapist Offers Help to Those Grieving for Their Pets

BY APRIL KORAL

Psychotherapist April Lang at home with her dog, Ruby, and Hawkins, one of her two cats.
Last month, in a small basement room of The Wagging Tail on Worth Street, four women and one man who had recently lost beloved pets, shared their grief.

Some talked about emptying their savings accounts for chemotherapy and other treatments of last resort. Others recalled caring for their pets during sleepless nights, of days spent trying patiently to feed them. Tearfully, they remembered the smallest details of their last moments together.

She was perfect, a woman, who asked not to be identified, said of her six-year-old bulldog who recently died of lymphoma. And now, she added, her voice choking, I have people say, It was just a dog. But it wasnt just a dog.

This was the first meeting of the Animal Bereavement Support Group, begun by April Lang, a psychotherapist in private practice in Tribeca. According to Lang, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1996, there is a growing need for such a group Downtown.

I know a lot of people who have lost animals and it was clear that they needed someone to talk to who could understand and give them empathy and support, said Lang, who lives with her 14-year-old dog and two cats.

People dont mean to be cruel, but they can be very insensitive, Laverne Campbell, a groomer at The Wagging Tail, said as she recalled the painful months following her dogs death. She reached for a tissue from the box that Lang had placed in the middle of the room and wiped her eyes. Thats why I had to be careful with whom I shared this pain.

Leo, whose cat had died just the day before, nodded. Im so appreciative to be here with kindred folk.

Lang said that bereaved pet owners commonly hear comments like, It was just an animal, Why dont you get another one? or You should be over this by now.

But that invalidates the persons feelings, she noted, and can make them feel isolated or like theres something wrong with them.

But here, in this room of strangers to one another, there was only sympathy and compassion. Each listened attentively to the others stories.

Leo told about his cathis first and only petthat he found 21 years ago at the ASPCA (I knew immediately that he was the one) and that he carried in his arms to the vet to be put down.

Susan Rudich recalled spending six weeks hunting down a cat that had been abandoned near her home, and then another two months taming him. He was so full of life, jokes, hitting me with balls. He was an angel, said Rudich, who called her three cats her family.

The group murmured knowingly as one talked of sleepless nights since losing her pet and another describing being haunted by guilt because she was not home with her dog when he died.

Eventually the conversation turned to differences between animals and people.

The love that animals give you is so pure, Leo said. Its unconditional.

A young woman, who came to the meeting because she continues to be sad about the death of her family dog, agreed. I have a cat who never stresses me out, she said. My cat never says, Im jealous about your last cat.

You have all done amazing things to help your pets, Lang assured the group. Regardless of who you lose in your life, youre in despair. Loss is loss, regardless of the species.

At the end of 90 minutes, the mood was noticeably lighter. Campbell told the group of a new dog she had fallen in love with. And Lang told Rudich about a cat she knew that needed a home. The grieving pet owner was dubious, but she promised to consider it.

The Animal Bereavement Support Group meets again on Feb. 18. For information, call 212-577-1357 or email aprillang23 AT gmail DOT com.

[SOURCE: The Tribeca Trib; photo by Carl Glassman for the Tribeca Trib]

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