Grieving the loss of a pet – Counselor offers services to bereaved pet owners
By Andrew Thompson, Palo Alto Weekly
When Maggie, a research assistant at Stanford, had to euthanize her beloved cat Noel, she was devastated. Noά had suddenly fallen ill, and within five days Maggie was forced to put her to sleep. The sudden bereavement of her cat left her emotionally shattered, and she fruitlessly searched the Peninsula for emotional support. At times, she thought she was crazy. “I didn’t eat for a week,” said Maggie, who asked that her last name be withheld.
She was finally referred to Bonnie Goodman, a Palo Alto pet-loss grief counselor, who helped legitimize her feelings and told Maggie that her reaction was perfectly normal. Goodman is the only counselor on the Peninsula who specializes in pet-loss grief. After practicing child therapy for 10 years and career counseling for 20 years, she decided to also do grief counseling.
“I just knew with all the losses in my life that I needed to connect deeper with people,” said Goodman, who lost 10 family members before she was 25 years old to heart disease and cancer.
It was Rusty, her golden retriever, that inspired her to work with pet-loss grief in addition to traditional grief counseling. Goodman foresaw her own grief over Rusty’s death when he was still a puppy. “This dog felt like a child to me very soon on,” she said.
Eventually, Rusty became sick with cancer and died. It was his death that Goodman says puts her in a unique position to empathize with bereaved pet owners.
“What people will say to me is, ‘I have a therapist, but I can tell that therapist doesn’t ‘get dogs’. That’s why I came in here. You get what it means to lose a pet,'” said Goodman, who has a certificate in Grief Counseling from U.C. Berkeley.