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To cope with the loss of a pet, owners turn to counsellors and support groups.
When R Shankar and his wife Shanthi lost their cocker spaniel Tuffy, they were shattered. "He died of renal failure and it was painful to watch, " says Shankar. It took them a year to come to terms with their grief. "Things like socialising seemed irrelevant as he left a huge void in our lives, " says Shankar. "My wife and I used to talk about him and relive the memories. "
Losing a pet is a very traumatic experience and a small but rising number of people are reaching out to counsellors to help them cope. "A loss is a loss, it doesn't matter if it is a pet or a loved one, " says Magdalene Jeyarathnam, founder of the Centre for Counselling in Chennai. "You feel the same level of grief and it has to be dealt with like any other irreplaceable loss. "
The grief is stronger when the pet is the centre of your world and you have no family around to help you cope, says Jeyarathnam. "Animals create a deep bond with us. "
Some people don't approach counsellors directly to deal with pet bereavement. "People don't say it directly when they come for counselling. They may say they are depressed because they have lost a job but in the course of a conversation, they will also mention that they have lost their pet, " says Jeyarathnam. While time is usually a healer, if you are not able to manage or focus on your daily tasks, then you need to reach out for help, she adds.
Many pet owners pay tribute to their beloved companions by visiting animal shelters and making donations. Mumbai-based Yash Lakhani donated a reverse osmosis plant to Madras Veterinary College after he lost his German Shepherd Taison. "He needed dialysis but no vet in Mumbai had the facility so I rushed him to Chennai. Taison died but I was impressed by the care he got and wanted to do something for the facility, " says Lakhani.
The Blue Cross of India in Chennai has a memorial wall. "Pet owners can put up memorial plaques with inscriptions for a fee, " says Sathya Radhakrishnan, honorary joint secretary, Blue Cross. On death anniversaries, people also sponsor feeding of the animals for a day. "Recently, a family from Madurai who had lost their dog came to the Blue Cross. The entire extended family came by bus and personally fed the animals at the shelter, " says Radhakrishnan.
Spending time at the shelters is therapeutic as they get to meet people who understand their feelings. "Here you find volunteers and other visitors whom you can really talk to, " says Bangalorebased Jessie Marco, who lost her dog last November. Marco visits an animal shelter near her home every Sunday to spend time with the animals. "I feel happier when I am surrounded by animals, " she says.
The Shankars mark Tuffy's birthday every year. "He passed away in 2004, but every June 25, we get his favourite food, including naan and sweets, and celebrate, " says Shankar.
Some find that opening their home and heart to other furry friends helps. "In 2006, we got a basset hound. We called him Soother, " says Shankar.
priya. menon@timesgroup. com
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