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Another Side of Pet Grief

Grief. We all go through it sooner or later. In my animal communication practice, I often work with clients who are grieving — usually because their pet has died. This is of course to be expected. But there is also another side of grief — animals who are themselves experiencing profound grief and loss. The good news is — as with people who are struggling with loss — we can do something about it.

I first started seeing this when I began working with “rescues” that had been through profound trauma in their early lives. Clients had been hiring me because their pets were often crying in the middle of the night, appeared to be having nightmares, or were just anxious in general. Once I found out more about what these rescues' “stories” were, it became clear that grief over the traumas they had lived through was at the root of their unhappy behaviors.

It makes sense. If you stop to think about it, people can and do have outlets for their grief and sadness. They can talk with friends, family members, spiritual advisors or therapists. They can join grief groups where they are able to fully express their emotions, and learn from others who are going through the same thing. We have rituals such as funerals where we honor the one who has passed. Animals have no such outlet. They have to hold it in until it builds up to such a degree that it comes out in one way or the other. Nightmares, PTSD, high anxiety, physical illness, and acting out are some examples of this.

Recently I’ve been working with a client who hired me for help with her four male cats. They had been peeing all over her house. She was aware of it, of course — but when she used a black light to highlight all of the “evidence” in order to do a thorough clean, she was astounded at how much there was. It covered large portions of most walls, the baseboards, and even her kitchen back splash. She was exhausted from this cycle and at her “wit’s end.” (This is typically when clients contact me.) She had been doing the “right thing” — using enzymatic cleaners — but the behavior was ongoing and she couldn’t keep up with it. The stress was affecting her sleep and making it difficult to function at her job. She was disheartened that all her efforts had failed, and now she had reach a crisis point.

The client’s husband had died approximately nine months prior, after seven years of battling cancer off and on. It was terrible for this woman to lose her husband so early in their marriage, and now the stress with the cats was making her seriously consider whether she needed to give one or more away…much as she loved them — and she really did love them — she was facing hard decisions.

I explained to the client that I have had success with turning this around (once I know the cause — and there is always a cause) but that it would certainly take more than one session due to the severity of the situation and the fact that there were 4 possible “offenders” playing off of each other. It does take patience and persistence to work with this issue, but she was fully on board with whatever it would take.

In working with her 4 boy cats, what I uncovered was that they were extremely angry — and that their anger actually stemmed from grief. In my first session with them, I found that there was one rather stoic “good boy”, but the rest were acting out and triggering each other — particularly one who the client had rightly suspected might be the ringleader of this activity. I spoke with the cats and heard each one out as to what they had been feeling. The “ringleader” almost immediately said “I’m so MAD that Mark died and left us. Yes, he had been sick before but he always got better and it was such a shock when he actually passed away. I actually didn’t think that would happen because he had always bounced back and I thought we were all helping him to heal.” This cat was literally “pissed off” and didn’t have any outlet for his grief, and he started spraying out of pure frustration. Two others had joined in and it became almost a game to see who could top each other. This went on for months before I was contacted.

The cats talked about how much time they had spent sitting on lying on Mark and being of comfort to him while he endured rounds of chemotherapy. The love they had felt for this man was profound, and their grief was as well.

The astounding thing was that despite my caveat that this was not going to change overnight, the client did see some immediate and significant improvement. She excitedly reported that they had been a lot better after my initial session with them — they generally seemed calmer and happier too— but the main thing was that they had ceased peeing, which gave her great relief.

My next session with them more of a “healing” appointment. It was a deeply moving experience for me. And cathartic for the cats.

You’ve probably heard it said that grief is a process and that it is not linear in nature. The work I’m doing with these four dear kitties continues for now because this is a complicated situation and there are some unrelated medical issues we are also addressing. In addition, there are four of them, each with unique personalities, and male cats are always more prone to marking behavior anyway. My client reports that there have only been occasional slip-ups. They are still getting used to the loss of Mark. But overall, the house is more calm and serene and my client feels supported by having a trusted ally to help her with her four boys, who are learning to live with the absence of an important family member, as she is.


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