The rules are simple. You don’t have to speak. There’s already a strong unspoken sense of mutual understanding in the air. But if you do tell your story, it will be heard by animal lovers who truly “get it”.
“PAWS” is Central Vermont’s first and only pet bereavement group, started last fall by my girlfriend Charilyn and I in honor of Buddy. It originated from my own need to grieve with others who maybe understood the pain I experience loosing Buddy both before and after he was gone. Charilyn quickly looked into whether a local pet bereavement group existed, and struck out. So we formed our own between the two of us, and meet periodically at the Barre Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 790.
Whether it’s one individual or many, all are welcome. We begin with a cup of coffee and a snack and then get right into it. I usually introduce myself and share an abbreviated 16 year history with Buddy, while one of our other dogs lies at my feet. I speak of our hardships, great times, and great feats. But I also share the tremendous impacts Buddy has had on shaping who I am and have become over those 16 years. I then open the floor. Most of the time, the flood-gates open. Sometimes they don’t. Regardless, there is much to tell and share of our beloved pets. My goal each Wednesday evening after PAWS is to bring a smile or share laughter with all who attend. I attempt this through either reading one of my light-hearted columns on Buddy or sharing an off-the-cuff story that I love to share.
Something we never expected with PAWS was individuals who were grieving over the loss of not just dogs and cats, but various other pets including even livestock. From gerbils to turtles, birds and horses, we’ve heard a lot. One of the greatest rewards of PAWS is that some folks simply stop showing up as often, and eventually not at all. They have used this outlet to openly grieve with others who share their sentiment, and have slowly begun to begin a new life without their pet. One particular individual was grieving equally as hard as I, but recently stopped returning to PAWS. I noticed the newfound excitement in her Facebook posts of her and her new puppy. I only hope she’ll return one day to encourage and support others who are where she was some months ago.
Every day when I return home from work, I look for Buddy as I let our other dogs out. It’s a 16 year habit that won’t soon be broken. Accepting the facts hasn’t been easy, but in time, it truly does get easier. Sometimes I awaken in the middle of the night to Buddy’s bark that he needs to go out. A few times I have even jumped out of bed only to find his, empty. Other times I can hear his nails click along the floor and instinctually look for him. I’ve been told this is a form of post-traumatic stress. I believe, rather, its love.
Talk during PAWS is geared for all ages, and whatever emotion you bring is welcome. Often I have explained to the group that I feel anger with the loss of Buddy, and that there are good days and bad days as well as good and not-so-good hours.
If you or someone you know could use PAWS, I encourage you to attend. We currently meet twice per month beginning at 5:30pm. The door remains open to anyone who may need to arrive later. We are currently working on a photo album as a token of remembrance for all pets. We’re also in the process of planning some summer activities involving a hike to the summit of Camel’s Hump as well as a visit to Stephen Hunick’s Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury. We also plan to have guest speakers in the near future, from experts in bereavement to veterinarians and more.
If you have recently lost a pet or are anticipating coping with loss in the near future, please consider PAWS. If you have any questions, comments or ideas, please contact me. Because understanding is the most powerful forward step to attempting to mend a broken heart and it’s the key ingredient in PAWS. If you think, as I did, that no one could possibly understand the depth of your grief, try us. You might be surprised.