Aultman game wins over kids experiencing loss

By Cheryl Powell Beacon Journal medical writer
POSTED: 12:00 p.m. EDT, May 05, 2010

CANTON: Dealing with the death of a loved one is hardly child’s play. But a Northeast Ohio hospital is marketing a new board game designed to help children share their emotions in a nonthreatening way. Aultman Health Foundation’s Grief Services recently began selling its Doggone Grief game to counselors, schools, funeral homes, support groups, families and other customers nationwide. The colorful board game features photos of about 100 dogs submitted by Aultman employees. The pooches’ pictures represent four basic emotions that players are asked to discuss: sad, mad, scared and happy.

”The game just opens the door and helps them feel more comfortable,” said Brenda Brown, director of Aultman Grief Services. Compassion Books Inc., a national company based in North Carolina, is selling Doggone Grief on its Web site and through its catalog, which is distributed to about 40,000 to 50,000 people nationwide. The 20-year-old company sells books, CDs, videos and other resources to help people deal with death or other losses. Compassion Books Director Bruce Greene said the company opted to sell the board game because it’s ”really well thought out and appealing to kids.

” ”There have been various board games that have come out to use in schools and things like that, but most of them are pretty minimal,” he said. ”We didn’t really want to carry one until we saw this one. . . . It just had more substance than the others I had seen.” Brown came up with the idea for the game several years ago after trying unsuccessfully to find a game to use with children during grief support groups she leads in Canton-area schools. ”I knew that playing a game or something fun or interesting would grab their attention and get them to talk,” she said. ”I thought, ‘We’ll just make our own.’ ” After getting the go-ahead from her boss, Brown enlisted graphic artists in Aultman’s media department to help design the game board and cards. The Canton-based health system contracted with a Las Vegas company called Board Game Design to produce the game, which is manufactured in China. A $3,000 donation from Dr. William Wallace and his wife, Candy, helped fund some of the upfront cost for the project. Brown, a dog lover, decided to feature canines in the game as a fun way to get kids to open up about their feelings.

”There are times that dogs make you happier than nobody else can, because they love you unconditionally,” she said. As players move their dog-shaped game piece around the board, they land on spaces and pick up a corresponding sad, mad, scared or happy card. Each of the cards includes an employee’s pet depicting the emotion and a question for the player to answer. One of the sad cards, for example, states: ”Sadie has a blank look on her face like everything is just fine, even though it’s not. Do you have times you pretend that everything is just fine, too? Please share.

” On a recent morning, seven students in a weekly grief support group at Lehman Middle School in Canton shared a mixture of laughter and sadness while playing Doggone Grief. After drawing the emotion cards, the children talked openly about everything from how they deal with anger to the things they miss about their deceased loved one. ”The thing I miss the most is her saying ‘goodbye’ when I go to school,” said eighth-grader Cody Warehime, 14, whose mother died in October. ”It’s the little things you miss,” agreed seventh-grader Jessica Coram, 13, who had two relatives pass away.

Amy Harrison, a counseling intern at the school from Walsh University, said several of the children in the group refused to talk about their feelings until they started playing the game. ”It’s a tool that we can use to help the kids,” she said. ”I definitely saw them open up more when we started playing the game. They would answer questions during the game that they wouldn’t answer without playing the game.” Seventh-grader Amanda Stamper, 13, said the game helped her talk about her father, who died when she was 4.

”When I came in, I used to not talk about what happened, because it was too hard to talk,” she said. Brown said the game can be played with all ages, but it’s primarily marketed for children. Doggone Grief retails for $35 and is available in the Aultman Hospital gift shop,Some national distributors, including Compassion Books ( also are starting to sell the game. So far, nearly 200 of the first 1,000 games produced have been sold nationwide and in Canada. Proceeds are used to support Aultman Grief Services, which offers support groups, school programs and other services to help people experiencing loss.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or

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

By Rheyanne Weaver

August 11, 2010 – 11:55pm 1 comments

When you take care of something for months or even years, you can grow attached to it, especially when it brings you happiness. For example, I became attached to several of my pet rats. Of course, the inevitable happened: they died. Although some people didn’t understand, I went through a minor grieving process and even cried over my lost furry friends. Then again, those same people really didn’t understand my intense attachment to my rats while they were still living in the first place.

Disenfranchised grief is generally known as grief that is “less acceptable” by society. Pet loss is an example, since people can reason that pets aren’t human so they don’t matter as much. I’m guessing some pet owners wouldn’t agree, but in general if you show too many emotions over a dead pet, you’ll get puzzled looks and laughs. Even with pets there is a hierarchy. Most people would think something is wrong with you if you cried over a pet fish dying, but it might be different for a dog.

Two employees from Hospice of Palm Beach County in Florida together shared their knowledge of grief through e-mail: Regina Di Pietro, director of supportive services, and Chelsea Johnson, manager of supportive services. “Grief is a normal and natural response to loss,” they said. “It is physiological as well as emotional and spiritual.” It is important to distinguish between the sadness and depressed feelings associated with grief and those of clinical depression, since it’s “not a normal response.”

Culture and religion can play a part in how people grieve, as well as understanding and acceptance. Some cultures may not understand the connection between pets and their owners, and therefore grief may be frowned upon, whereas grieving over a lost child is usually met with empathy and acceptance. Generally, this society expects quick recovery, and long term or complicated grief could be seen as weakness.”

Disenfranchised grief can be harder to recover from and may create feelings of guilt and shame because of the stigma attached to some causes of grief, because we rationalize why we can’t feel, or why we shouldn’t.

I think we have to understand that grief is so personal and so individual that we can’t decide what someone should feel by our own standards. Some of us cry when we watch a sad commercial, while others never shed a tear despite loss and pain. Also, a lot of time with disenfranchised loss, people around you don’t know you’re grieving. This can cause a much slower recovery, as one of the healing parts of grief is the expression of the pain. The recovery process is the same for all types of grief, but sometimes there are support groups for specific causes of grief so people can relate.

Without limits or time expectations, the only way out is…working through the grief. It is what we have to do to really recover. There are no quick fixes, and with respect and working with people who understand…it can make it easier.

So, is grief ever beneficial? The pain is never a good thing, but the response and the emotional process can be healing. If you walk the journey, it can be a good thing when you come out on the other end. We will all grieve at some point. It is something that you can take the good out of…but we would never choose the pain.

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


QUESTION: I have two dogs that grew up together and one of them is very sick. I’m worried that when she passes away the other will be terribly grief stricken, so my question is: Do dogs mourn and what can I do to help?

ANSWER: It’s my experience and my observation that dogs do indeed mourn the loss of a canine companion. This syndrome is common when a dog loses its human too, and there are two very famous instances of this dynamic. One is the case of a dog in Scotland named Greyfriars Bobby who was so devoted to his master, John Gray, that after Gray’s death, he guarded the man’s grave for 14 years, until his own death in 1872.

And one of the most famous and touching stories of faithfulness and mourning between a dog and his departed human is the story of Hachiko the Akita, in Tokyo, Japan. His owner, a professor at the Imperial University, took the train every day accompanied to the station by his faithful Hachiko. Each day Hachiko patiently awaited his return, tail wagging, until one day in 1925, the professor, having taken ill at work, did not return home. The man subsequently died, but Hachiko maintained his vigil at the station for over 10 years until he ultimately passed away himself at that very train station. A bronze statue of Hachiko stands at the site today and it’s a very famous landmark.

Dogs don’t experience emotions the same way as we do, but they do experience a type of distress (which certainly appears to be grief), stemming from the survivor’s feelings of belonging (to a pack) having come to an end. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted a study on pet grieving and found that 36 percent of dogs ate less after the death of a companion, 63 percent vocalized more or swung the other way and went silent. Many of the dogs in the study slept in different places from where they had slept before, and over half of the surviving dogs became more affectionate, even to the extent of becoming clingy to their owners. Dogs develop relationships, create habits, routines and rules with each other. When one of them disappears or passes away, it’s only natural for the survivor to feel a sense of loss and emptiness. Those patterns of relationship create confidence, trust and familiarity with the world. When a dog loses its companion it can be like having to overcome an addiction, in a way, in that there’s an ingrained “habit” if you will, that the survivor has a hard time coping without for a period.

It’s possible to misread your dog’s emotions, though, and not pick up on the fact that because dogs are so sensitive to our feelings, he may be reflecting your own aura of grief. Now is when he really needs you to be his centered, confident and balanced leader. If you have shown solid leadership all along, his transition to being an only dog will be easier. Also, in spite of your own pain, be sure to give the survivor plenty of attention. Initiate playtime and engage him in the activities he loves. Spend extra time with him. A final note: Beware of rewarding bad behavior because you feel sorry for him. Some dogs take that as a sign of weakness, and that could invite hierarchy issues depending on the dog. When it comes right down to it, when that day arrives, you will need each other more than ever. Undoubtedly the passing of time will heal both of your hearts. It always does, but his will probably heal before yours.

Gregg Flowers is owner of Dog’s Best Friend dog training services and serves as behavioral consultant for Robinson’s Rescue and the Humane Society of Northwest Louisiana. Write to him in care of The Times, P.O. Box 30222, Shreveport, LA 71130-0222.