NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Many of us have a special bond with our pets and can’t imagine life without them. But, experts say there are ways to prepare you for that loss when it does happen.
The Haidet family of Plano has fond memories of their first dog. “Bailey was really nice,” Katie Beth Haidet remembered aloud. “She didn’t bite, she didn’t lick, and she just let me pet her.”
The spunky black lab was a member of the family for more than 10 years, before she was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer. “We just thought it was best to put her down instead of having her suffer,” Chris Haidet said.
When the Haidet family made the tough decision to put Bailey down, they chose to do it in their home, so the entire family could be there. “We were all there, and we all had our hands on her when she was passing,” recalled Sally Haidet.
The three kids were even involved, reading a letter they wrote to their beloved canine friend. “I said that I would never forget her, and that everything we’ve been through together was fun,” said Katie Beth.
Dr. Rebecca Westbrook worked with the Haidets to put Bailey to sleep in their home. She says no matter how tough you think you are, losing a pet can be devastating and you will feel grief.
“Grief is such a personal thing, whether it’s a family member or a pet that is part of your family,” she said. “You can’t change how you feel. Sometimes we cry, and sometimes we don’t. It doesn’t mean you’re not grieving.”
Dr. Diane Pomerance, a dog behavior specialist and pet expert, says pet owners should not feel embarrassed or try to hide their feelings. “The feelings associated with grief are extremely comparable to those for any other loss,” she said.
According to Dr. Pomerance, owners should grieve for their pets just as they would for any human member of the family. She’s even written several books to help families deal with the loss of a pet. “Identify the fact that you’re grieving, and know that this is normal behavior,” she said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about grieving.”
Dr. Pomerance created a first of its kind pet grief-counseling program in North Texas, through the SPCA. It meets the first Saturday of every month and offers pet owners a chance to connect to others who are going through the same thing.
“I’d be driving down the road and start crying, and I didn’t know why,” said Lou Olinger, who was surprised when she realized her unusual feelings were grief over the loss of her dog.
Olinger took part in one of the first SPCA grief counseling classes, and said it helped lessen the pain. “It helped me so much that I wanted to become a grief counselor and continue working with it,” she said.
The Haidet family believes they’ve dealt with their grief, and while they still have two other dogs in the family, they will always remember their first.
“There won’t ever be another dog like Bailey,” said Andrew Haidet.
Dr. Pomerance encourages anyone who has lost a pet to take part in the counseling classes. They’re held regularly and are open to the entire family.