New Pet Grief Group helps owners cope with loss

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Pets are naturally beloved family members, and when it’s their time to pass on, the loss is heartbreaking and, for some owners, devastating.  Their indelible imprint on our lives cannot be underestimated, though widespread support and resources to help us cope with such a loss can be a challenge.  Thankfully, Passionate Paws Animal Hospital is making it much easier.

Passionate Paws first opened its doors almost two years ago, in August 2016, and have made it their mission to treat the whole client – both the animal and its owners.  In a traditional veterinary hospital setting, the passing of the pet is the goodbye to the owner, if or until they get a new one. But Hospital Administrator, Stephen Bonilla says, “We wanted to reach beyond that, and be able to help our clients continue their relationship with us, while helping them in ways we never thought we could.”  

It was with this goal in mind that Passionate Paws started their Pet Grief Group in February, kicking off with a luminary service in downtown Waxhaw.  Led by a local pastor, and accompanied by a grief counselor and Waxhaw Police Department Animal Control Officer Bob West, the memorial hosted approximately 25 attendees, gathering to share in their collective loss and feelings of grief.

Typical Grief Group meetings are held every 3rd Thursday of the month at 7pm at the Waxhaw Entrepreneurs co-working space, 216 West North Main Street in Waxhaw. Sospeso Coffee donates the coffee, and refreshments are served.  Like the luminary service, meetings are facilitated by a grief counselor and attendees are encouraged to talk about their pet, while gaining some bits of wisdom to perhaps help them see things through a more accepting lens. At a minimum, it’s simply a place and space to share stories and memories of their pets that have had such a profound impact on their lives.  

Bonilla sympathizes, “You have to feel comfortable enough to even go to a meeting, and a lot of people don’t have the courage yet to come.”

The group doesn’t want anyone to talk unless they’re ready, and encourages those that have benefited from the group to come back and help someone else that may be struggling.  Additionally, Bonilla promotes the group for those owners dealing with hospice care situations or terminal diagnoses…essentially, anticipatory grief. “You don’t need to wait until your pet has passed on.  Knowing that you’re going to be grieving soon has a lot of implications in your daily life that necessitate support.”

Ultimately, the doctors and staff at Passionate Paws felt strongly that there needed to be more in terms of after care for their pet parents that have had to euthanize their family member.  What drives people to be so grief-stricken almost always has to do with something bigger connected to that pet, and the Grief Group creates the space to make that discovery.

To learn more about the group, visit their website, or contact Passionate Paws Animal Hospital directly,

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