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Today in
S.C.V. History
April 12
1738 - Fr. Francisco Garcés born in Spain; came through SCV in 1776, found Tataviam fighting with Coastal Chumash, observed Santa Clara River flowing by night and dry by day despite the season being spring [story]
Garces statue

Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jul 12, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelAnyone who has ever owned a pet knows how much that dog, cat or goldfish can become part of the family. I have owned lots of dogs and cats in my life, and with each loss I’ve suffered a period of grieving.

A dog or a cat is not “just a dog” or “just a cat.” In my house, they are a part of the family, and losing them causes an intense emptiness.

One year ago today, I lost my sweet Zuliebear, a Bengal cat. A Bengal is a cross between an Asian leopard cat and a domestic shorthair. She was the most beautiful, intelligent, goofy and playful cat I’d owned, up to that point. She also required more than a year of training before she was “household suitable,” as the breeder who tossed her out had described her.

I’m still not over the grief, but I’ve gotten a new kitty to keep me company that’s just as rambunctious as Zuliebear was, if not more. So today I am thinking about the grief we all suffer with the loss of our pets, and I want to offer some suggestions on how to deal with it.

b-BG-Small-Flagstone---Pet_Losing a beloved pet hurts. It hurts a lot. This is normal. It’s natural to grieve over an animal you’ve spent countless hours petting, hugging, walking and playing silly games with. Animals give you so much love. They are a source of comfort and joy. Frankly, they are the perfect companions. They never divulge secrets, they accept you for who you are, and they are a constant part of your life … until they die.

Everyone who owns a pet will most probably have to go through this at some point. You’re not alone. People experience grief in different ways. Some cannot accept that their pet is gone. Others suffer guilt over the death, especially when the vet puts your sweet baby to sleep. Some people refuse to get a new pet out of loyalty to the pet they lost. Many feel powerless, hopeless and depressed. All of these are normal reactions to losing a pet.

Pitttie%20faceIf you’ve lost a pet, you will need to work through all of these feelings. Try to be honest about your feelings, examine them, and come to terms with what has happened. This is a first step toward acceptance and the ability to move on.

One of the best things you can do is think about all of the good times you and your pet had together. Those good memories are gold. Work on a memorial for your pet, if that is something you’d like to do. Think about what might have happened to your pet if your loving heart had not given him a home. Those years you had together are priceless.

If you are feeling guilty because your pet was euthanized, remember that your pet’s quality of life was not what it once was, and the problems would only have gotten worse, and the pain your best pal was feeling was causing him to suffer greatly.

Pets-that-dont-want-to-go-to-the-vetsYou and your vet know what is in the best interest of your pet. Trying to keep an animal alive just for the sake of having him around a little longer will not help either of you. Euthanizing a pet that is critically ill is the final act of love you can give him. End the suffering, and do not blame yourself. Try to be relieved and comforted in that fact that the pain and suffering has ended.

It’s a hard decision. Lots of tears are very helpful. Don’t hold it in. Let it all out. And don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel. Grief is personal. No two people will react to their loss exactly the same way.

Some people find that filling their gaps of time by doing something else – taking a class, visiting with friends, doing something physical such as hiking. All of these activities will help you work through your feelings. Visit your friends, join an exercise program, or volunteer with others.

If you have children or other pets, you will also need to address their feelings and help them work through the loss. Both your children and other animals in the household will need reassurance, extra attention and lots of hugs.

lucy1Practically, the next step is to figure out what to do with your pet’s remains. The easiest thing to do is to leave your pet with the vet. There is most likely a fee for this. Some shelters also accept the remains, most likely also for a fee. Sometimes you can bury your pet at home. Check your city for burial options and prohibitions. If you are renting your property, this is not an option for you. There are also pet cemeteries and cremation services available if you prefer. If you have thought ahead, there are life insurance and burial policies available for your pet.

Once you have worked through your grief, you might find a hole in your heart that needs to be filled. This is the time for you to start looking for a new pet to fill the void. I always look for shelter animals, especially those in a “kill” shelter. It makes me feel good to have saved another life.

s1034nwgin5vcnauGoing to a kill shelter is always hard. Looking at all of those hopeful faces and knowing you can adopt only one (in my case) is really tough. I want them all. To narrow down the choices, I try to spend time, up close and personal, with each of my favorites. Eventually, one of them makes the biggest impression on me and ends up going to his or her new home.

You will never forget your old pet, but the new darling will work her way into your heart and soothe your weary soul. Animals definitely make the very best of companions. This is when you can move on.

A final note: To replace my beloved Zuliebear, I eventually adopted a Savannah Breeding animal that had run his course. He was going to be put down because they were done with him. I’ve been working since September to socialize him. He has calmed down and is now a huge part of the family unit. He still has some lessons to learn, but he has come a long way.

Every day when I look at him, I am glad I stepped into his life and he wasn’t “put down.” He may be an elderly cat, but he still has so much to give – and so do I.




Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.


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1 Comment

  1. Jeanne says:

    I am saving my cat’s ashes and will do the same with the next one. When I pass I will have my ashes sprinkled along with my kitties.

    We will all be together in heaven. Jesus promised to “prepare a place for us” in heaven and he knows my place must have my family including my precious kitties.

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