World Pet Memorial Day is June 12 and it’s a time to remember and reflect on our pets who have crossed the rainbow bridge. Losing a pet is a devastating experience, but often people around you don’t understand what you are going through. “[Losing a pet] is disenfranchised grief,” said Connie, the founder of the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) Pet Loss Support Group.

Disenfranchised grief is defined as grief not acknowledged by society. That is why Connie started the Pet Loss Support Group in 2006. She wanted to provide a safe place for people who have experienced the loss of a pet with an environment that promotes healing. “I say you have to get the pain out of your body,” said Connie, “and sharing that with other people who’ve lost pets really helps.”

She asserts that letting people talk about the grief helps normalize the feeling. Often participants are surprised at how hard they are taking the loss and some struggle with the spirituality piece. Connie reminds them that their pet is always going to be in their heart. The group is a good place to work through the guilt of euthanasia some people experience. “The participants are all there because their hearts are broken and they are helping each other heal,” explains Connie.

The groups are run by volunteers who often have gone through pet loss themselves. People come into the group and ground rules are given, like confidentiality. Then the group is opened up for people to share. Some of the participants have experienced recent losses and some lost their pet awhile ago. The group evolves the same way, where participants share fond memories of their pets and support one another. There are tears but also some laughter too. If people need more support than the group can provide, they are given referrals.

When asked what benefits the group brings to participants, Connie shared, “Support, healing, a place to share and work through the guilt.” The group is also open to people who have lost a pet in other ways, like a missing pet or if a shelter volunteer needs support around losing a foster animal when they are adopted. It is for anyone struggling with grief due to loss of a pet or animal friend.

For more information about the group or if you are interested in volunteering, contact Connie at badhusky1@gmail.com. According to Connie you don’t have to have a counseling degree to volunteer, just empathy. Some group members have become volunteers as well. The Pet Loss Support Group meets every Thursday from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in the SAS conference room at 2061 15th Ave. W. in Seattle.