MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life
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Friday, January 30, 2009

10 Steps to Deal with the Loss of Your Pet
by Dawn Kairns, author of MAGGIE: The Dog Who Changed My Life

Sometimes special animals come into our lives and touch our hearts in a way that leaves us forever changed. A chapter ends as the familiar road you traveled together comes to an abrupt and. You are in uncharted territory without a map. Lost. The world as you know it may look totally different.

Not everyone realizes that the bond between humans and their pets can be deeper than with a loved human. Some people often spend more time with their pets than they do with family members. Pets don’t judge or hurt us the way humans can. The loss of their constant, unconditional love can leave us empty.

There is no best way to get through the loss of a beloved pet. The way through the grief process is different for everyone. Here are some things I found helpful when I lost Maggie, my beautiful black lab with whom I had the most precious of relationships:

1. Hold a ritual after your pet dies and invite friends and family who knew and loved your pet. Share stories about how your beloved animal enriched your life and other lives she touched. You may also want to create a memorial altar with a candle and your pets’ photo, along with other items that belong to or remind you of your pet, such as her dish, special toys, and a lock of her hair.

2. Recognize that the grief of pet loss can be exceptionally profound and honor that by giving your grief the space to be. Allow your tears. Set-aside quiet time each day where you can decrease the demands of the outside world. Write in your journal. Allow your pain to express and release.

3. Let in the compassion and understanding of supportive family friends and strangers.

4. Don’t be surprised if some family members or friends are not as supportive as you might expect them to be. Allow yourself to take time off from friends who don’t understand the depth of your grief, who try to downplay your loss because it’s an animal rather than a human, or who have unrealistic expectations of you at this very vulnerable time.

5. Let people know if you need to talk about your lost pet. Many well-intended people may try to change the subject to make it easier on you and you may need to let them know that it’s okay to talk about it.

6. Find a pet loss support group locally or online and make use of the national pet loss support hotlines.

7. Nurture yourself. Get a massage. Take walks that nature. Meditate. Have lunch with a supportive friend. Do what feeds your soul.

8. Know yourself well enough to know if getting a new pet at this time will help or hinder our grief process. Some people do fine jumping right in with a new dog or cat. Others may resent having a new animal in the house too quickly.

9. Help animals at your local humane society or get involved with the many breed rescue groups in your area. It may help ease your pain if you allow your love from your lost animal to become part of a bigger purpose, such as assisting and caring for homeless animals.

10. Try new things to discover more of yourself; those creative endeavors you have often considered but have never tried.

We all have to face grief and loss eventually. It’s one of the great equalizers in life. Allow your pet’s death to ripple the foundation of who you are, as death often does. When we experienced loss, it may be a good time to let go of what no longer fits in your life; what isn’t you. In my case, after I lost Maggie, I changed both personally and professionally. I hope my steps on the road from loss to healing can now benefit you in your time of loss. As devastating as the loss of our beloved animals can be, this time can also be an excellent opportunity to examine our purpose in life and find new meaning.

© By Dawn Kairns

Author of MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life: A Story of Love

*Nominated for the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award
by the Dog Writer’s Association of America*

Friday, January 23, 2009

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." --Gandhi

On my bike ride yesterday I met a woman walking her 13-year-old golden retriever while pushing a large stroller containing her other 13 year old Golden retriever with arthritis. She could no longer make the walk on her own, but Nancy was determined that her golden girl would not be left behind. The buggy is almost identical to the ones you see pulled behind a bicycle with a child inside, but this one is made specifically for dogs with the entry in the back.

A little later as I walked the South Padre Island Beach, I saw an older couple pushing their 13-year-old Pomeranian in a small stroller. Same story. Their dog had arthritis and couldn't make the walk, wanted to go, and they wanted her with them.

"Ah, as it should be," I thought. This kind of love and caring for our precious canines. It must've been a day for the 13-year-old dog's.

Don't we wish all dogs had this kind of love and care? I am honored to be author of the month for an online book club called DogRead. One of the group members, Linda, reminded me of these wonderful words by Gandhi in her post:

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." --Gandhi

How far we have come in this country in treating domestic animals more humanely. And how far we have to go when I think of the conditions in puppy mills, feedlots, and chicken farms to name a few. I got to thinking; if we could change one of these things, just stop puppy mills, for example, how far could we go in homing the millions of homeless dogs in shelters? And how much closer would we become to reaching the greatness Gandhi spoke of?

Dawn Kairns
Author of Maggie: the dog changed my life