MSPCA’s Renowned Specialty Animal Hospital Rolls out Weekly Group Support Sessions to Process Pet Loss Grief
BOSTON, Mass. Dec. 10, 2018 – Everyone who has ever owned a pet knows the soaring joy of a life spent in the company of animals, as well as when that joy dissolves into grief when a beloved pet dies, or when their health declines so significantly that they need ongoing care that’s both scary for them and heartbreaking for their owners.
Annette Scanlon, LICSW, Angell’s veterinary social worker who in the last year and a half has counseled hundreds of clients through the death of a beloved pet, is taking pet grief counseling to a whole new level by rolling out group counseling sessions which, until now, have largely been confined to human-specific grief therapy.
Scanlon already runs a Monday evening drop-in pet loss group at Angell for those struggling to overcome the grief associated with losing their pet. She is set to launch an emotional and support animal group, for people who rely on and care for support animals, as well as a caregiver support group, for primary animal caregivers who feel overwhelmed caring for an aging or ill pet, at the start of the New Year.
Sharing the Loss, Healing the Wounds
“Group therapy’s role in helping people process grief and trauma is so powerful because when we’re in a group we’re reminded that we’re not alone—and knowing that others are processing similar experiences can itself be quite therapeutic,” said Scanlon. “Participating in groups also helps us develop greater self-awareness by listening and being available to others.”
For Dianne DeLucia of Andover, Mass., whose beloved dog Bruiser came into her life as a puppy in 2006 when he was rescued along with is littermates as part of an animal cruelty investigation, and who died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve 2017 after battling a brain tumor, group counseling meant a return to stable footing after experiencing profound grief.
“Group counseling helped me to process the deep and pervasive grief I felt upon losing Bruiser. Sharing my experience with others let me know that I was not alone, and that others were struggling with the same feelings I had,” said DeLucia. “Knowing that others were enduring similar circumstances made me feel part of a community that was focused on healing together.”
The groups are set to meet monthly in four to six week blocks—a length of time that Scanlon feels can help promote healing.
“Group counseling is most effective when consistently attended because the path toward healing can be long and winding, and we’re likely to stay on the path if we have the support of others who are helping us process our pain just as we are helping them,” said Scanlon.
While nothing can ever bring Bruiser back, DeLucia is grateful to have a sense of peace as she approaches the anniversary of his passing. “My experience with Angell—and with those who are also navigating their own grief—gave me the coping skills I needed to re-direct my energy toward healing my heart, and I’ll always be grateful for the experience.”
Group counseling sessions are free of charge and participants can sign up online at angell.org/grief
Animals’ Increasingly Meaningful Role in our Lives
Scanlon is rolling out these groups in response to the stress and grief she witnesses all too frequently as the on-staff social worker at a bustling 24/7 animal hospital. Now that pets are living longer—and by extension suffering from the myriad degenerative diseases and common injuries endured by humans for millennia—they occupy a larger place in our lives.
“We love this place that animals occupy in our lives—for many people owning a pet is one of the most satisfying aspects of their lives, which makes the grief associated with losing them all the more profound,” said Scanlon. “Our aim with group therapy is to extend the healing power of counseling to many more people who can benefit from it.”
More information can be found at angell.org/grief.