— Their names were Bandar and Pixel. When they died,
Bandar in 2013 and Pixel in 2014, Linda Schenk as
shaken. She had owned both cats for 15 years. They’d
been with her through a move to California and back home
to Baltimore and a marriage, and their deaths left her
sad and bereft.
went through some tough stuff together," said
Schenk, referring to her husband, Alex Young, whose own
15-year-old cat, Pogo, died in 2012. "We had three
cats die within two years of each other."
has been a pet-owner since childhood. "Pets bring
pure love and joy into your life. They’re one of the
things that make it a home," said the founder of a
brand strategy company, Virtuallinda Media, who has
since adopted another cat.
their cats died, Schenk and Young turned to the Hunt
Valley Animal Hospital. Besides its veterinary practice,
the animal hospital offers a unique service — pet
grief groups led by a certified counselor. In the local
area, only one other venue, Baltimore Humane Society,
appears to have a similar service.
Bury holds dual titles at the animal hospital. She is
reception supervisor and pet loss grief counselor. She
was certified as the latter in 2012 by the Association
for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), a New Jersey-based
nonprofit group that began offering the designation in
grieve for dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes — they
get attached to their pets. The biggest reason I got
certified was because I don’t want them to feel alone.
People say, ‘It’s just a dog, just a cat.’ But it
was more than that to them," Bury said.
most people, especially if they don’t have
children," she added, "their pets are their
family, even their children."
clients are not alone. In a recent nationwide survey, 83
percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the
family. The result is growth in the pet industry that is
evident in many markets. .
are dog walkers, cat groomers, house sitters,
veterinarians who make home visits and doggy bakeries
that turn out custom-made dog biscuits. Resorts for dogs
feature individualized gym sessions and Reiki massage.
Any number of hotels and resorts will accommodate pets.
trend extends to pet bereavement. "Pet cemeteries
are more accessible. You have pet loss cards, pet
hospices, pet grieving groups," said Coleen Ellis,
a Texas-based expert on the pet industry.
is owner of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, with grieving
groups and counseling certification, two pet funeral
homes and a pet cemetery. In 2009, she founded and is
co-chair of the Pet Loss Professional Alliance, part of
International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral
Association, a trade group.
her opinion, two groups are driving the trend:
millennials who are getting married later, don’t have
kids and get a pet instead; and the opposite, baby
boomers who miss their adult kids and get a pet.
are significantly changing what is happening in the pet
industry," Ellis said of both groups. "They
want the same care for their pets as for humans. They
want to recognize the human/animal bond."
certification for pet loss grief counselor is a weeklong
course that covers all aspects of pet grief.
mimics every stage of the human pattern," according
to Andrew Mazan, the Baltimore Humane Society’s pet
bereavement counselor who also holds APLB certification.
something important to you is gone," the difference
being that it is now publicly recognized and acceptable
to grieve for a pet, said Mazan, who offers group and
individual counseling. The monthly group sessions are
free; the nominal fee for individual counseling benefits
important for people to deal with their grief. So many
times, through no fault of their own, they stuff their
feelings and eventually, down the road, it turns into
catastrophe," Mazan said.
just listening is helpful," Mazan said. "Some
people don’t have anyone else to talk to."
has the same impression. "Every now and then, a
person will come in and say, ‘What, grief groups for
pets?’ But for the most part, it’s out there,"
offers free group sessions the first Wednesday of every
month at the Hunt Valley Animal Hospital. She also
offers private sessions for a fee but encourages clients
to participate in the group because it helps to be with
sessions are open to the public. In fact, she said, many
participants are not clients of the animal hospital but,
instead, hear about it from their own veterinarians.
sessions typically average three participants. Most
participants attend a single session. A few come to a
second session, and Bury hopes they won’t need more
said the majority of group participants are grieving the
death of a pet cat, then come dog owners and then bird
animal hospital has a large avian clientele, she said.
"People get extremely attached to their
the group, participants talk about their pet. Often,
they are dealing with feelings of guilt.
a pet owner, you are responsible for your pet’s
well-being. You have to make the decision whether to
have a costly vet treatment. Sometimes, the outcome of a
vet treatment doesn’t give the desired result,"
Bury said, "or is harder on the pet than
anticipated. There’s a feeling you might have caused
the animal pain."
Bury’s clients was a couple in their 50s who had no
children. When one of their two dogs died, the husband
had a hard time with the loss.
go to the door every day and look for the dog even
though he knew it was dead," Bury said. "His
wife called me to get him in a group. He felt he couldn’t
talk to anyone about it."
client was a young woman who, after separating from her
husband, got a puppy. One day, though, she came home
from work and found it dead.
private life was falling apart. The puppy was
dead," Bury said. "It sent her into an
said she found the group grief sessions helpful.
talk about your grief. But it’s not like you stop
missing them," Schenk said.
had a routine with each of them for 15 years," she
said. "That’s a long time."