Having a pet can meet many human psycho-social needs and has been undervalued in the field of mental health, says the author of a comprehensive review of human-pet bonds published today in the journal Family Process.

The research, by Dr. From a Walsh of the Center for Family Health at the University of Chicago, finds that pets provide stress reduction, companionship, affection, comfort, security and unconditional love to their owners. Having a pet can even confer physical health benefits. For example, heart attack survivors who have pets are likely to live longer if they have a pet. Pets can become so entwined in family dynamics that they are often the source of conflict in divorces. Some women have refused to leave a partner who is abusive if she thinks the pet will be harmed in her absence, Walsh said. Other studies in recent years show that many animals possess a strong ability to connect emotionally with humans and communicate with them, in their own ways, of course. Thus, relationships with pets help people through hard times and provide connectedness in an era when family connections are fragmented.

Mental health professionals, however, often ignore the role of pets when assessing emotional health or relationships, Walsh said. Grief over the loss of a pet, moreover, is trivialized. And people who seem overly attached to their pets are sometimes viewed as strange, dysfunctional or lacking in social skills.

But, Walsh wrote: “As researchers have seriously examined human-animal bonds in their own right their findings suggest that feeling even closer to a pet than to others is not uncommon, and the vast majority of pet lovers are not socially inept or trying to replace their human companions. Most people who connect strongly with animals also have a large capacity for love, empathy and compassion.”

More than 63% of U.S. households — and 75% of households with children — have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. National Pet Owners Survey.

— Shari Roan

Photo credit: Michael Chow  /  The Arizona Republic  /  Associated Press

THE LEGACY OF BEEZER AND BOOMER: Lessons on Living and Dying

“What a fabulous, heartfelt and enjoyable read (assuming you don’t mind some crying). Doug adeptly describes his transition from skillful attorney, who takes pride in controlling the world around him, to a soul-searching student who, under the tutelage of his beloved four-legged mentors, strives to live in the moment. In the genre of ‘dog vignettes,’ it’s mighty refreshing to read a journey of feelings rather than simply a comical description of life with a dog.” ~ Dr. Nancy Kay, author of Speaking for Spot.

Nearly 80 percent of companion animal owners consider their pets as family members. Most of them will outlive their “children” and will face the difficult journey of caring for and saying goodbye to them.

Grief after a loved one passes, including a pet, is common and many resources exist to help. Just as common but less well-known is the anticipatory grief many individuals feel before their pet passes, which can cause fear, guilt, hopelessness, anger, denial, and depression.

PictureThe Legacy of Beezer and Boomer: Lessons on Living and Dying from My Canine Brothers by Doug Koktavy explores the author’s overwhelming anticipatory grief when his beloved sibling Labradors, first one and then the other, were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. He comments, “This harrowing, sometimes humorous, and ultimately enlightening journey describes how I ultimately found peace, strength, and acceptance by learning to listen to my dogs.” He adds, “If I can learn this, anyone can.”

All told, this first-place recipient of the CIPA Evvy Book Award in the Self-Help category illustrates how one man – and by extension the rest of us – can earn “The Daily Point” and learn to stay present, cope with emotions, and ultimately find peace even in the most difficult situations.

Doug Koktavy is a self-employed creditor’s attorney in Denver, Colorado, who has played ice hockey for years and competed in triathlons. He enjoys volunteering for pet organizations, biking, running, and taking walks with his new Labrador, Dory.

Posted by JoAnn Turnbull at May 4, 2010 9:26 a.m.
Category: Pets & People
Animal Spirit Healing and Education Network is proud to welcome Teresa Wagner, instructor for ASN’s new Animal Loss & Grief Support Program.

Instructor, Teresa Wagner – May 25, 2010 – Chicago, IL

– Animal Spirit Healing and Education Network is proud to welcome Teresa Wagner, instructor for ASN’s new Animal Loss & Grief Support Program.  This new three-level program in Animal Loss & Grief Support will guide you to become a compassionate presence and trained counsel for end-of-life care, loss, and grief. This program is guided by Teresa Wagner, a highly admired instructor with an extensive and grounded background in counseling and grief support studies.

Teresa notes, “For those who love their animals deeply, losing them can be as devastating as losing a human family member. Grief is indifferent to the species lost.  When we suffer a great loss, pain is inevitable. Though there is no magic wand to avoid the pain of grief, there is much we can do to support the healing of our pain, including being open to the grace. The state of grace is the other side of pain. As different as these energies may be, they exist simultaneously.

When the heart is broken open, it is not just pain that results from the breaking, but the possibility for growth of the heart as it heals.” The various Level 1 courses are excellent for anyone interested in working with their own animals or animal companions of friends and family.  These courses provide a solid foundation for the program. Levels 2 and 3 become increasingly focused on enhancing skill level, knowledge, and techniques to prepare students to work professionally with clients.

Classes included in the program include: –   Legacies of Love: A Gentle Guide to Healing from Your Loss –   Understanding and Preparing for Euthanasia –   Flower Essences and Aromatherapy for End-of-Life Care –   Animal Hospice from the Perspective of the Veterinarian, the Animal, and their People –   Counseling Skills for Animal Communicators and Healing Arts Practitioners –   Ethics for Animal Care Practitioners –   Animal Loss & Grief Support: Case Studies –   And more! This program of study is for those who wish to assist and educate themselves and/or their clients so they can support the process of death and grieving, and the roles of care giving and grief support.  Friends and family members who want to support their loved ones, as well as professionals such as animal communicators; healing arts professionals (flower essence and aromatherapy practitioners, energy healers); veterinarians and other veterinary staff; animal shelter and rescue group workers; trainers and behaviorists; pet loss support group facilitators; and therapists who want to learn more about pet loss are welcome to attend.

About Animal Spirit Healing and Education Network: Animal Spirit Healing and Education Network (ASN) provides distance learning and on-site animal wellness classes including Animal Communication, Shamanic Animal Healing, and Animal Reiki in addition to courses on holistic wellness for families. ASN’s instructors are experts in their fields, with years of practical knowledge and professional teaching experience. Its programs and courses are designed for animal lovers and professionals from vet techs to groomers, trainers to handlers. To learn more visit http://www.animalspiritnetwork.com


By Janice Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen, June 4 2011

Every now and then, that tiny microcosm that is our personal space in this world stops dead in its tracks. And everything else -politics, world events, even rip-roaring Stanley Cup finals -fades for a bit. So it was for me this week in the loss of my pal Molly, the sweet yellow Lab who was less dog than cherished family member for the last 13-plus years. She died on Monday, as gently and peacefully as we could have hoped, thanks to the professionalism of a skilled and sensitive young vet. And while Molly’s departure means nothing to the larger world, it means the world to my family and me. Which testifies to the beauty and disturbingly deep grace of pets in human lives. Some people should stop reading right here.

This column -the first without my “secretary” Molly stretched out behind me on the floor of my home office, waiting for me to reach back and give her one of her hundred daily ruffles -is really for pet people. Non-pet people, who will find it clichéd, cannot know the truth pet people have always known: that teary farewells to beloved animals are unapologetic-ally clichéd -because love is clichéd. And we do love our pets. We love them so much that we even do the hardest thing of all, releasing them from the hurt that has finally become too much, the last months of increasingly crippling arthritis, the pain that no longer responds to medication.

When we had to do this for our previous dog, our vet suggested that it was a gift to be able to end beloved animals’ suffering, easing them gently into a final sleep. And it’s true. But it doesn’t feel much like a gift. It feels like loss and guilt and great emptiness. The house is unnaturally quiet now, devoid of that life that was always there, always waiting whenever we walked through the door. As one involved in the material and emotional mechanisms of dog ownership for nearly four decades, minus a few gaps between pooches, I’m finding a dog-less house an empty place indeed.

Molly’s sudden absence is so huge it’s palpable, measured on a scale of negatives. No more warm and constant companion in whatever room I’m in. No need to have that small piece of cheese waiting at lunchtime, those three tiny squares of toast in the morning, those little treats of dinnertime meat lovingly put aside. Molly no longer walks by my side in the nearby field she loved, searching for her dogie pals. No longer do we have to worry about her stealing socks and napkins, or poking around in visitors’ purses (“Labrador retriever” being a euphemism for “kleptomaniac”), looking to score breath mints, grocery lists or, if she was lucky, used Kleenex.

That old lady’s “oof” she made when she plopped down beside me is no longer a household sound. No longer can I expect that beautiful face to peek around some corner, checking my whereabouts. The absence of her face is the hardest thing. It still looked youthful – aged white fur masked by her natural blond-and-white – a perky looking face at odds with the cruel realities of her body’s advanced age. That made her leaving especially tough, as did her softness, her sweetness. She didn’t lack spirit – she was full of fun and mischief, especially in her youth – but there was never any malice in her, any meanness. There was simply an intensity of devoted love.

This is not something easily explained to those who have never lived with dogs, who doubt that animals behave in any way other than the generically instinctive. But here is the true (and instinctive) knowledge of dog owners: their pets’ devotion is a gloriously real thing, the gift of a Creator who was smiling the day he made dogs. Molly would have thrown herself in front of a truck for us or fought off the fiercest intruder. (OK, maybe not that, since she didn’t actually know what an intruder was. Everyone who came to our home, from visitors to furnace guys, was a potential new friend.) She had, yes, a generous heart. She had a big personality. For that, I owe my wonderful Molly more than the love that was so easy. I owe her memory respect, for what she was and what she brought to the world around her, never mind how small. People who have never shared their lives with pets will not comprehend this. I don’t expect them to understand the compelling spiritual validity of tributes to non-human creatures who have added to the world’s measure of joy. If those people have read this far, I suspect they are saying: “Oh come on, already. Get a grip. She was just a dog.” But she wasn’t.

Janice Kennedy writes here Saturdays. E-mail: 4janicekennedy@gmail. com © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com