When a Pet Dies, More People are Sending Pet Loss Sympathy Cards to Grieving Owners

Last updated: November 24, 2009 9:50 a.m.
Emma Downs – The Journal Gazette

“Pet-sympathy cards have long been available, but are more in-demand these days,” says Terri Todd, of the Anne’s Hallmark store on St. Joe Center Road.

Darby was a typical terrier. High-spirited, mischievous, maybe a little too big for his tiny britches. “Ordinarily,” says owner Mary Morrow, 76. “We called him a terror instead of a terrier.” For 14 years, Darby was Morrow’s companion,  her special friend, she says. But the Welsh Terrier developed cancer in his nose and, one morning, he sneezed and started bleeding to death, Morrow says. “He loved us to death,” she says. “And we returned that. He was the joy of my life. I was so sad. We didn’t get another pet for years after that.” Morrow took Darby to the veterinarian, and the dog was euthanized.

She’d heard about veterinarians sending cards or flowers to clients who’d lost a pet. But Morrow received nothing. “I never heard from them,” she says. “I felt bad about that.” Losing Darby was the impetus for Morrow’s volunteerism at Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. Five years ago, she joined the other shelter volunteers who write and send sympathy cards to anyone who brings a sick, severely injured or elderly pet (or a pet with advanced aggression) into the shelter to be euthanized. In 2008, the shelter euthanized 407 pets for people unable to afford euthanasia at a veterinary clinic.

“You’d see people bring in a dog or a cat and they’d be so sad,” Morrow says. “The least we can do is send them a card.” Morrow writes the cards herself. Featuring artwork by local artist Lisa Girlach, the message inside the card is simple: “We want you to know we understand how you feel about the loss of your friend,” Morrow says. “These animals are part of people’s lives,” she says. “And for some of the old people, they’re a reason to go on living.” This year, Morrow and Girlach have sent 200 of their cards  for cats, dogs, hamsters and one iguana  to local people.

“Pet sympathy cards are not a new phenomenon but are gaining in popularity,” says Terri Todd, manager of Anne’s Hallmark on St. Joe Center Road. During the 15 years Todd has worked for Hallmark, pet sympathy cards have always been available, but Todd sees more customers requesting them now. “They’ll think they’re asking for something unusual,” she says. “And they seemed relieved to actually find one.”

“One of the possible reasons for the increased interest in pet sympathy cards is that having empathy for a person who lost a pet, especially if you don’t own one yourself  is a relatively new phenomenon,” says Peggy Bender, community relations and education specialist at Animal Care and Control. “People are still taken by surprise when they receive one,” Bender says. “There are people out there who still see pets as just animals. So a person who loses a pet will feel hesitant to express how much grief they’re going through.”

“Sending a sympathy card is an important acknowledgment of a person’s loss,” says Kathleen Bredemeyer, an employee at Paws and Remember (www.pawsandremember.com), a local business that provides loss and grief counseling and provides pet memorial and cremation services. “We’re beginning to understand and recognize how deeply felt the loss of a pet can be,” she says. “They are our best friends and a part of our families. They play a large role in our lives and should be remembered.”