Help for dealing with the loss of a pet

Help for dealing with the loss of a pet

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"It was probably the most difficult thing I've ever gone through. Being single, she was my baby," Tish McQueen explained. "It was probably the most difficult thing I've ever gone through. Being single, she was my baby," Tish McQueen explained.
This memorial quilt at the UT vet school helps owners pay tribute to their pets. This memorial quilt at the UT vet school helps owners pay tribute to their pets.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The death of a pet can feel like losing a family member, but not everyone understands. You might be ashamed of your sadness or have feelings of guilt. But there's help in many forms, and most of it is free.

Tish McQueen adopted her Dalmatian named Cruella in 2002 after the dog was found abandoned along the highway.

"A co-worker got her out of the road and brought her in and said, 'Tish, do you want this dog?' I wasn't sure at first because I had another dog and I wasn't sure they'd get along, but I just fell in love with her instantly," she said.

They had eight great years together, but in March 2010, "She just collapsed. She could barely breathe."

Tish rushed Cruella to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

"She had a blood clot going into her heart and there was nothing they could do. I ended up having to make the difficult choice to let her go," Tish said.

The decision was devastating. "It was probably the most difficult thing I've ever gone through. Being single, she was my baby," Tish explained.

She felt not only sadness, but guilt. "I thought what if I had waited? Maybe there would have been a miracle. Maybe she would have survived," she said.

Tish was grieving, but not everyone understood. "Even if they didn't say it, you got that feeling that, well it's just a dog. It's not just a dog to me. It was a child," she said.

Tish soon learned there were lots of people who not only understand, but who celebrate the human-animal bond.

"They're so much a part of our social structure. They provide us companionship. It's that unconditional love," said UT veterinary social worker Sarina Lyall.

She counsels individuals and families who are dealing with the loss of a pet. Owners of vet school patients are entitled to eight private sessions, but anyone in the community is eligible for four free sessions.

Lyall also leads a pet loss support group that meets once or twice a month. "We talk about ways to memorialize. We talk about when do I get a new animal. Anything that's coming up for somebody where they're at in their grief process," she said.

Guilt is a common emotion, according to Lyall. "But guilt implies intent to harm and so helping them to see that in their story, most people had no intention of harming their animal. When you reframe it for an owner, it relieves them of that sense of responsibility," she explained.

The vet school also holds quarterly pet memorial events where people share food, artwork and memories.

Tish has attended several of those events. "You're coming together with like-minded people who understand the pain that you're going through. You've all been through same thing and that was very helpful," she said.

Another part of her healing was adding a Dalmatian-mix named Roxy to her family.

"I found Roxy on pet finder and I went to see her and I fell in love with her, but I thought I can't do this. It's too soon. I feel like I'm betraying Cruella. But I went home and thought about it and thought she needs a home. I can give her a good home," Tish said.

A year later, she adopted a cocker spaniel Bosley. She loves all of her pets, but none will ever take Cruella's place.

"The pain of losing her was just unbearable. But when I think about it, the joy she gave me in the eight years that I had her was far more than the pain," she said.

For more information on the services the UT vet school offers, call 865-755-8839 or go to their website.

Lyall has some suggestions for memorializing your pet:

  • You can donate money or your pet's belongings to a shelter
  • Donate any leftover medication to the UT vet hospital
  • Donate a book about pet loss to the vet school
  • Plant a bush or a tree
  • Make a memory book, write a poem, make or buy a special piece of jewelry
  • Think about what your animal taught you about how to live a better life
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