In his time at the Baltimore Humane Society, Andrew Mazan, the cemetery director of the Nicodemus Memorial Park, has been approached by countless folks in search of answers on how to best cope with the pain and heartache that stems from the loss or extreme illness of a pet.
Mazan said some even asked if there was a group or a therapist available that dealt with counseling that specific type of grief.
As a response, the humane society formed its own pet bereavement support group last December and, on the first Tuesday of every month, is providing those in need with an outlet to express their feelings and experiences, as well as learn about how to properly take the next step forward.
“A lot of people don’t really know how to deal with the death of a pet,” Mazan said. “This might be the first death they’ve ever had in their life and they don’t know how to deal with it.”
“It’s just a safe place for people to come and talk about their feelings and what they’re going through and how to properly grieve their pet’s death.”
The meetings are led by former Har Sinai Cantor Ellen Schwab, a passionate animal lover, who’s spent a lengthy amount of time exploring the effects of grieving over a pet, having relinquished more than one herself.
Schwab appreciates how the humane society’s support group eliminates any of the awkwardness or embarrassment that arises from treating the death of a pet as if a human family member passed away.
“There are many, many people who feel that they will be judged negatively because of their deep feeling around the death of their pets,” Schwab said.
“Everybody understands the joy of pet ownership, but when it comes to the loss of a pet, sometimes people feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing that with others because there seems to be a bit of doubt toward whether or not it’s appropriate.”
In addition to her presence at the meetings, Schwab also offers one-on-one counseling sessions that touch on all areas of the grieving process from the guilt that surfaces from euthanizing an animal to questions of whether adopting an old pet is disrespectful to the one that’s just passed away.
Schwab said pet owners also wrestle with the dilemma of knowing that if they adopt another they’re leaving themselves open to feeling the same way in the future.
However, Schwab and Mazan said the support group endeavors to focus on the positives and encourages pet owners to highlight all the joyous memories owners can associate with their pets.
Pikesville resident Beth Scoville, who lost her 9-year-old Rottweiler Bogie in November, and attended her first group meeting on Tuesday, agrees with that school of thought.
“It’s about trying to focus on how great it was to have had him,” Scoville said. “If you compare all of that to maybe never having that experience because you want to avoid the grief—they don’t compare. I would rather go through the grief and have all those years of pleasure with a pet, than to miss out on that.”
Scoville learned of the support group from longtime friend Gary Zipper, a board member at the humane society who had heard about the meetings but never thought of attending until his German Sheppard, Jake, was put down just one week ago.
“It’s a big void in your life,” Zipper said of the loss. “The way I describe it is it’s a big hole in your heart. It’s a piece of your life that’s not there anymore. It is, quote-unquote, losing your best friend.”
While discussing a loss of that nature is undoubtedly a solemn discussion, Zipper appreciated the fact that the meeting was very interactive and allowed everyone in attendance to communicate their individuals thoughts, as opposed to solely listening to an authority on the matter speak.
“It’s the opportunity to share your loss with people that have had the same experience,” Zipper said. “It’s very supportive and there’s a pretty good chance you might come away with a thought or an idea that might help you get through this grieving process a little bit better.”
For more information on the Baltimore Humane Society’s Memorial Park services, visit their website here.