Coleen Ellis—an expert on pet loss and dealing with the kind of grief that results from losing an animal companion—recalls how the loss 18 years ago of her beloved dog, Mico, coupled with then working in the human funeral profession, inspired her to start the first pet funeral home, launching her on the path to becoming a sought-after speaker and consultant in the pet bereavement realm.
As a way to invite Ellis to provide general guidance to those who’ve lost an animal (or soon will), I read part of an email from a longtime listener, who had just two days earlier said goodbye to her beloved dog, with whom she’d “had 14 wonderful years together.” Later in the conversation, we circle back to that longtime listener, and her loss, addressing how insidious grief can be, affecting someone more sharply after a hunk of time has passed than what they experienced in the initial period. Ellis explains how pet loss is considered a “disenfranchised death,” noting that in a country where approximately 30% of the population are not pet owners—and even some in that other 70% are not necessarily passionate, empathetic animal lovers—a huge number of people do not understand the human-animal bond, and therefore, cannot comprehend the grief over losing an animal companion. Some of the listener calls and emails underscore and elaborate on these ideas, including our first caller, who lost his pet the day after Christmas, and says he and his wife do not plan to bring another animal into their lives, conducts extensive research on grief, which he seems to be deeply in the throes of—Ellis observes that he is squarely in “the year of firsts,” the year after losing a loved one, when certain shared activities, occasions, holidays and so on tend to resonate more profoundly. Themes that emerge from her suggestions for someone who has experienced a loss include being kind to yourself and moving slowly—versus hastily or abruptly–in actions and decisions.