More “In Memoriam”

June 28th, 2011

As we noted in an earlier post, there seems to be growing recognition in our society that the emotion pet owners feel over the loss of a loyal animal companion is a legitimate form of grief. Here’s a further example: the Animal Compassion Network, a non-profit animal welfare organization in North Carolina, is launching a monthly “pet loss and grief support group” called Paws on the Heart. The facilitator, a longtime chaplain at Asheville, NC’s Mission Hospital, is “an avid animal lover and strong believer in the importance of honoring the pets in our lives.” Read the whole story here.

A couple of decades ago, people who held memorials for beloved pets or had them interred in pet cemeteries were regarded as kooks. Not anymore. Our evolving views on animal welfare have clearly brought changes in how we look upon a companion animal’s life and death. It’s reasonable to assume we’ll be seeing support groups like this one springing up more and more commonly in the near future.

Creature Features

June 21st, 2011

A scattering of stories we’ve scooped up from the Web lately:

* Should Will and Kate attend the Calgary Stampede? The Vancouver Humane Society says no.

* Could “dog traffickers” be responsible for the unusually large numbers of purebred dogs gone missing in the Ottawa area recently?

* Wildlife officers in Washington State are working with dogs to help keep bears away from populated areas.

* Service dogs played an important role in helping police restore order during the Vancouver hockey riots.

* People who give their pets natural remedies and vegan food should probably watch out for quacks like this guy.

* According to a new study, Canadians spend twice as much time surfing the Web as they do exercising their pets.

* A Canadian volunteer helps to care for the nearly 700 cats and kittens rescued from a Gainesville, Florida home.

In Memoriam

June 14th, 2011

If you’ve had pets for any length of time, then you’ve probably experienced the death of a pet at least once. Which means you’ve probably also experienced this: you’re telling a non-pet-owning friend or relative about the grief of losing a beloved animal, when you chance to look in their eyes … and realize that they haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. They want to be kind and sympathetic, really they do. But they just can’t understand why any reasonable person would be upset about the death of a dog or a cat. It’s just an animal.

All right, yes: some pet owners do go overboard. But we feel what we feel. And if it’s OK to mourn the death of a character on Grey’s Anatomy or get teary-eyed while watching the royal wedding on TV (are you related to any of those people?), then surely there’s room for those of us who grieve when a pet passes from our lives.

According to this article from The London Free Press, there’s a growing appreciation that the emotion associated with the death of a pet needs to be acknowledged as a genuine form of grief — as evidenced by, for example, the rise of workshops on the subject of pet loss. And there are some sound sociological reasons for this shift in attitude:

The trend merits more than just passing notice or a roll of the eyeballs. Decades ago, our longing for companionship was met by children, parents or friends who were weekly, if not daily, in our lives. We shared communities, if not parcels of the same tract of land. Today, hundreds of kilometres often separate parents, friends and children. In urban and suburban environments, neighbours are acquaintances, but seldom regular kitchen-table visitors. And the human need for love, loyalty and companionship seeks new avenues.

Lorelei Eckel-Braun, manager of Kitchener Cemeteries … says the impetus for creating a workshop on pet loss came from a combination of factors, including the more significant place pets occupy in the average home and “the tremendous amount of suffering that people go through” with the death of a pet. She recruited Dianne Bauer, a funeral director who had done research on pet loss, to conduct Monday’s session.

Those who attended, Bauer said, “wanted practical advice on how they might express their feelings” …

“As a society, we tend to diminish pet loss,” Bauer said. People will experience comments like, ‘It’s only a pet; for goodness sake, go out and get another one.’ Unfortunately, I’ve heard people say the same about loss of a baby. In both cases it’s dreadful; it shows terrible insensitivity, but it happens all the time.” Those responses, Bauer says, further inhibit expressions of heartfelt emotion.

The Name Game

June 8th, 2011

So teh Internetz haz spoken, and the name of Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s new tabby cat is … Stanley. The PM, whose family adopted the adorable grey furball (above) from the Ottawa Humane Society, put his faith in democracy, inviting Canadians to vote on Facebook for their preferred name. (Did “Stanley” take a clear majority, we wonder? Or will it be forced into a fragile coalition with the French-language frontrunner “Vingt-Quatre”? Will it hold up, or will we all be forced to vote again in a couple of years?)

We like Stanley — the name, that is. It’s solid and unpretentious, with a subtle nod to the country’s treasured hockey heritage.  And given the risks of outsourcing the whole pet-naming business to the whims of the online community (especially when you’re a less-than-beloved federal politician), the outcome seems to have been pretty optimal.

Actually, we wish more pet owners these days would go for straightforward, meat-and-potatoes names like Stanley. But as New Zealand-based pet blogger Nick Barnett of Four Legs Good observed recently, the current trend is for people to “strive to find a name that’s as distinct and characterful as their unique pet.”

And the results? Well, they’re often … unfortunate. A sampling of the names that Barnett has come across lately:

Grip, Flex, Axle, Gizmo, Diesel, Fender, Radar, Ronk, Nike, Ambra, Astral, Crypto, Diablo, Makaria, Murderface, Juno, Orion, Zeus, Pericles, Isis, Osiris, Jupiter, Zephyr, Worf, Spiffy, Sniffy, Snazzy, Cricket, Parsley, Chops, Piglet, Turtle, Chicken, Freeway, Safari, Ramble, Tax, Didge, Boost, Sonic, Corban and Rasta.

Like Barnett, we’re curious to know how folks come up with pet names — and what mental process, exactly, leads someone to settle on … Murderface?

More pictures of Stanley on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Official Facebook page.

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