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Healthy Pets

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Coping With Pet Loss

WebMD explains how to survive the painful grieving process after losing one of your closest companions.

Why We Grieve So Deeply continued...

Instead, Pomerance sought to understand her grief. She got certified as a grief recovery specialist by the Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Grief Recovery Institute. She started a support group for grieving pet owners at the SPCA of Texas in Dallas, and wrote a book on losing a pet.

There are many reasons why someone may grieve very deeply for the loss of a pet.

"These animals offer us unconditional love," Pomerance says. "They don't betray us. They don't have an agenda. They are always forgiving and happy to see us. And they're with us 24/7. When we're home we can let down our guard with them."

Pomerance's support group gives pet owners the freedom to grieve. Its participants come from all walks of life. One retired doctor came to the group with photos of a Dalmatian he had lost 25 years earlier, she recalls. He also brought an urn containing the dog's ashes. "He curled up and cried like a baby," she says.

"The bonds with our beloved pets are in many ways stronger, purer, and far more intimate than with most others of our species," says Wallace Sife, a retired psychologist and author of The Loss of a Pet. "We feel loved and secure in sharing our secret souls with them. How often can you do this safely, even with someone who is very close?"

Am I Normal?

Sife heads the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement in Brooklyn, N.Y. The association's web site features a chat room staffed by moderators Sife has trained in grief counseling. "They come out with a lot of insight, and relief that there's nothing wrong with them," Sife says about chat room participants. "They realize they're not alone in their grief."

The Internet has also promoted shared rituals and even mythologies meant to console grieving pet owners. For the Monday Night Candle Ceremony -- which was born online but occurs offline -- pet owners light candles to memorialize their pets at a set time every Monday. And in a slightly more elaborate version of a story parents might use to console their children, many sites present the story of a "Rainbow Bridge," which deceased pets cross on their way to a worry-free pet heaven.

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