August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

Guest blog: The hardest part about loving a pet is saying goodbye

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day
Guest blog by Alisha Henson. So excited to welcome her and 
her dogs Mason and Megs to the Paws For Reaction extended family!

For many of us, our pets are our fur-babies, our family members, and our best friends. They celebrate our moments of joy with us and sit with us in solidarity in our moments of sadness. Our attachment bonds to our beloved pets can be deep and rich, and the death of a pet can be heart-wrenching. 

In 2015, I was away on a trip when my beloved Golden Retriever Landon died suddenly in his sleep while in the care of a family friend. It was the first time I had left Landon and his brother Bruno with someone outside the family, and I could not rush to his side fast enough when I received the news. There was nothing I could do to save him. We left Landon wrapped in his favourite blanket lying on the floor of the emergency veterinarians. My husband and I returned home feeling like a broken family. 

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

A few months later, we decided to adopt a senior from a rescue centre. Bruno, our eleven-year-old rescued yellow Labrador Retriever, was lonely without his pet-sibling, and I felt the house was quiet with only one dog. We adopted Medâr, 10 years old, and he quickly worked his way into our hearts. Unfortunately, after only two months, we discovered that Medâr had a very aggressive form of cancer, and after a battle to try to save him, we lost him six months after his adoption. Without having recovered from the loss of Landon, I was now saying good-bye to a second dog. 

This time at least I felt more in control because I held his head in my lap and kissed his forehead as we said good-bye. I knew he was ready to go, and he was tired of fighting. Again, I returned home with a piece of my heart left behind at the veterinary hospital. I was very grateful for the staff at Pembroke Animal Hospital (PAH) for their compassion. They knew I had lost Landon and now Medâr. The final blow came six months later when Bruno, now 12 years old, who was working so hard to be healthy for his mom and dad, just could not fight anymore. He had a seizure one morning after playing, and he was gone within an hour. Three dogs, in 13 months. I was shattered.  Even as I write this, four years after losing Bruno, I still tear up. 

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

I work in the field of mental health, and I knew it was important to allow my feelings to be present and let the tears come. I engaged in a ceremony to honour my boys by having each one cremated, and their ashes, paw prints, and bandanas returned to me. I planted perennials in my garden that represented each of them, and I attended the local ceremony for pet mourning. Although I'm not a religious person, I recognize the importance of ceremony in the grief process. It allows a shared space for grieving, and although none of the other attendees were grieving my pets, I knew I was not alone. 

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

Grieving a pet can be a lonely process. It's not uncommon for people to say, “it is only a pet” or “just get another one.” I feel sad for those people who have never truly experienced the intense bond you can develop with a pet. In the field of mental health, it is well known that many people can have a special bond with their pets, that these bonds are significant attachment bonds, and can be more significant than the relationship they have with other people. As with any meaningful relationship, the stages of grief are experienced: Shock and Denial; Pain and Guilt; Anger and Bargaining; Depression and Loneliness; Adjustment to New Life; and finally, Acceptance and Hope. 

These stages may not be linear and cannot be rushed. It's important that through this process, you must be compassionate with yourself. To take time to allow yourself to grieve, to pay attention to your emotions, reach out to friends and family, or seek mental health support if needed with a local therapist or grief group (check your local veterinarian for options). For many families with small children, the loss of a pet may be the child’s first experience with death. If this is the case, a ceremony, and talking to your children will be instrumental in helping them learn to manage grief effectively in the future. 

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

After the loss of Bruno, the PAH sent me a card that held a poem. I still carry the poem in my wallet to this day. The poem is called the Rainbow Bridge, and although I now have two other fur-babies in my life, I still talk about their brothers and how one day we all meet at the rainbow bridge.   

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

Recommendations for ways to honour your pet: 

Get or design a memorial tattoo
Donate to a local shelter in your pet’s name
Create a photo album
Write a poem
Plant a flower, garden, or tree
Donate training time to a local shelter
Donate to a local fire rescue or police department’s canine unit in your beloved pet’s name. Your donation will help train animals for rescue and recovery

Paws For Reaction guest blogger Alisha Henson August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day
Meet the guest blogger: Alisha Henson is a long-time advocate for both animals and humans. She has been working towards her doctoral degree in psychology while working as a therapist and conducting psychological assessments under the supervision of Dr. Len Gignac. She works with children, adolescents, and adults. In her free time, she spends time with her dynamic duo Mason and Megs. Mason is a Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever mix and Megs is a black Labrador Retriever. They spend their time hiking, swimming, and enjoying all that Renfrew County has to offer dogs lovers and their companions. 

Pembroke Psychological Services
Alisha Henson (MA, CCC, Ph.D. student in Psychology)

August 28 is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

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