- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

Robyn Zeiger, a Silver Spring counselor who specializes in pet loss, still has a scrapbook about her childhood dog, Biscuit, who died in 1963.

June Wood, an Annapolis woman whose 15-year-old dog, Munchkin, died last year, goes to visit his grave at a pet cemetery nearly every day.

These are some of the reminders and rituals that help people get through the grief process. The rituals might be different, but the outcome is still the same: to remember their pet, says Carolyn Butler, coordinator of the bond-centered practice training at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

"It is definitely important to have some avenue for grief," Ms. Butler says. "If you put the bowls away and the pictures away, you will still grieve. If you create memorials, then you create avenues for the grief to surface."

For some people, it is comforting to have a reminder of their pet nearby. That is called a "linking object," says Ms. Butler, one that helps a person adjust to a loss of physical contact. She tells of one patient who carried her pet's ball of red yarn in her purse and another who kept a dog's collar on the bedpost.

In addition to scrapbooks, photos and personal objects of the pets, many veterinarians will provide you with final mementos, if you ask.

Dr. Margot Kerr, a veterinarian in Northwest Washington, says her practice provides "Clay Paws," a clay impression of the pet's paws. She will also clip a piece of fur upon request.

Holding some sort of goodbye ceremony can also be a good way to bring closure to a sad situation. The pet or cremated remains can be buried, and a few words said about the pet.

There are several options when considering burial. Dr. Kerr advises against burying a pet yourself. It is illegal in many jurisdictions, and unless the animal is placed in a special container, there is a risk that wild animals such as raccoons may unearth the body, she says.

Cremation is a more popular option, Dr. Kerr says. Depending on the size of the animal and whether the ashes are to be returned, that service runs from $55 to $275, she says.

Many people do get their pet's ashes and spread them or bury them in a location that held meaning for the animal and its owner, such as the back yard or the park. Others plant a tree, taking comfort in the fact that something will blossom as a monument to their pet's life.

Sheila Cohen, a Chevy Chase licensed clinical social worker who counsels many patients dealing with pet loss, has a stone plaque in her back yard dedicated to Heather, her golden retriever who died last year. She also made donations to animal organizations in Heather's name.

"A lot of people feel closure when they do these things," Ms. Cohen says. "It makes it more concrete, which facilitates mourning."

Still, others prefer a cemetery for their pets. Barbara Reardon, family service counselor at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens in Annapolis, says a burial at the Colonial Pet Rest section of the facility runs upwards of $375.

"We have had services for pets," Ms. Reardon says. "People read poems. We can bury pets with their toys and blankets. We are glad to do it."

Mrs. Wood's dog is buried at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens. She says she couldn't bear to think of Munchkin someplace where she could not visit her.

"She was like a member of the family," Mrs. Wood says. "It was really painful when she died. I couldn't put her in the back yard. What if I moved?"


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