Abiding Ties Pet Loss Support Group is grounded in the love of animals and their meaning in our lives. The group provides pet caregivers a safe space to share stories, to connect with people who understand the experience of pet loss, and to know that they are not alone in grieving their beloved animal companions.
Origins: The Journey
Throughout my life, I have been a pet caregiver to many animal companions…cats, dogs, horses…and I have loved them all. I felt connected to each of them in different ways. Some of my animal companions were more outgoing, some more timid, some were just plain silly! We all have different connections with each of our animal companions and we grieve for them in different ways too. As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved my dog and cats so much and wanted to help them feel better. Yet, as I grew older and experienced the death of each pet, I realized I didn’t have the heart to face pet death as often as veterinarians do in their vocation.
In 2014 our yellow Labrador, Maggie Mae, developed osteosarcoma. The day she was diagnosed and the many days to come were the beginning of a long unfamiliar journey. After that day, we faced many decisions involving her treatment and the ramifications of those decisions. The deep pain and grief I felt, the uncertainty, the not really knowing if what I was doing would help her, was terrifying.
A few years later while I was in seminary in Montreal, one of our cats, Sugar Bear, became suddenly gravely ill. At home alone, my wife shouldered the medical decisions and the burden of being there for his euthanasia. I felt helpless and very sad I couldn’t be with her and our cat. I would have benefitted from a chaplain’s calm presence that day!
I shared these stories and feelings with seminary classmates and mentors. They sensed in me the deep love I have for my pets and for those who grieve for the death of their pets. They encouraged me to seek a way to integrate these deep feelings of grief and empathy into some type of generative action in my community. I had learned about being a hospital chaplain and loved my time with my human patients. I often wondered, why aren’t there chaplains available in veterinary offices? I learned firefighters and police officers have chaplains, as do game wardens. Surely, veterinarians and their staff as well as pet caregivers would benefit from a veterinary chaplain during difficult diagnoses or pet euthanasia.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything! Statistical data now says people have grown even closer to their pets and that losing them may be harder than it ever was before for them. As a pet caregiver, I find that to be true. The long days of isolation changed not only the pet caregivers, but the pets themselves.
Ultimately, I Googled “pet chaplain” and found an online course led by Rob Gierka, Ed.D. and Karen Duke at www.petchaplain.com. Last spring, I took their course. It inspired me to start a local, in-person pet loss support group. I as a chaplain hope to create a safe, welcoming space for other pet caregivers to share their stories, to experience that they are not alone in how they feel about losing their much-loved animal companions.
Linda Moore, MDiv is a certified Pet Chaplain® and a recently ordained Episcopal priest. She is an on-call chaplain at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. She was trained as an interfaith hospital chaplain at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Linda has 38 years of experience as a Medical Technologist and currently works full time in the laboratory at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.