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Help Needed For Cruel Response To Loss Of Dog


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I don't know if anyone can help me with this, but I've been asked by a friend to write a Letter to the Editor in response to another one written by irate parents who took offense to a previous letter, and I can't find a THING on the 'net that might help me compose a proper response, considering the comparisons made between animal companion loss and human child loss - there's nothing really helpful and specific out there about this, it's still such a 'taboo' subject. I'm so upset myself over this exchange, I can't seem to come up with the right way to tackle it.

The first letter was this one:

I am very upset that on a weekend after hours (noon) there is not a vet in (3 towns) who can be on call for an emergency.

Unfortunately, March 7 a dear friend’s dog was hit by a van in front of my house in "town x" (who by the way did not even stop, just drove away).

The dog did not have a chance but we at least had to try, I phoned seven different vet clinics in the area and no one could help us. We drove to the "x" emergency clinic in "x" they confirmed the outcome and had him humanely put down.

Why did the dog have to suffer for over two hours when he could have been put down immediately?

To all of you, who think that “it’s just a dog or cat” they are our kids and we love them just as much as you love your children.

The hospital has a doctor for humans on call on the weekends, why can’t the vet clinics take turns on the weekends so we don’t have to drive to the city and make the animals suffer. I guess they are not as important.

I have had animals all my life, cats, dogs, horses and can’t imagine life without one. All of my “pets” which have come from rescue organizations or are the “cats that are not wanted”. All have been spayed or neutered and they give us unconditional love, never complain except when I am a little late with dinner, and the best we can do is to make them suffer longer when they are hurt?

Here is the letter that followed this week:

In response to "x's" letter.... - How dare you compare a dog or cat to our children.

How dare you assume that the love for our children even remotely compares to the love of our pets.

How dare you lay the blame on the driver of the van who hit that dog and not on your friend who was negligent by letting that poor creature run on the street.

Ms. "x", we too have owned many animals we love them dearly. Guess what happens when one of them dies? We mourn quickly then go get a new one. Have you ever experienced the loss of a child? Obviously not. We have and again we say, how dare you.

I'm so distraught myself over such an inconsiderate and non-compassionate response to the first woman's plea, that I can barely think straight.....knowing there are people like this right in our neck of the woods, and to make matters worse, I happen to know that the man involved in the 2nd letter was, or possibly still is (!), one of our local firemen. Lord help any poor animals caught in a burning building if HE'S on call! I found this letter to be so sickening on so many levels, I can barely speak.

Marty?......any suggestions from an animal bereavement counselor's (with exceptional writing skills!) point of view???? Anything I might quote? Anyone else who might have some wise suggestions? I only have tomorrow to get this in in time for next week's paper, if possible. In my view, these people (and probably many more here) need some re-education, in several departments.

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My dear Maylissa,

In the limited time I have available this morning, this is the best I can offer right now, and I sincerely hope it helps as you compose your own Letter to the Editor. Certainly you are free to quote anything I've said here.

The following is a copy of an e-mail I received two years ago from a visitor to my Grief Healing Web site, along with the response I sent to her:

In a message dated 1/10/2007 11:39:02 P.M. US Mountain Standard Time, this individual wrote:

I'm sure you are a lovely person. You volunteer at hospice and have gone through grief yourself and I am sorry for your losses. But I am grieving, too. I lost both of my parents 3 years ago and they died just 9 days apart. They were sick and elderly (88 and 84) and had been in the hospital for about a month when they passed away. I can tell you that it was horrible; more horrible than you can ever imagine. I watched them suffer and then lost them both. Since then, I've also lost two uncles and my favorite aunt. With my uncle's death in September, I really had a set back in the grieving process and I finally decided that I better get some professional help from a psychiatrist. I did and he put me on antidepressants.

Now, on to the purpose of this email. And I don't mean to attack you, I really don't mean this email like that. I just want you to know that I don't think that your grief site should include grief over lost pets. I like animals but I promise you that I never cried every day for three years over a dog no matter how much I liked him. It is just somehow belittling to have grief over a pet included in the same sentence as grief over a loved person. I use this point.....and I don't have a child in Iraq...thank goodness.....but let's just say that a parent is suffering from the loss his child in the war....and comes looking for help and finds himself or herself on a website where somebody is lumping in the loss of a pet with that of losing a child. I don't think it would be very well received.

Of course, you have the right to put anything you want on your website and I know that....I just think maybe you should rethink the pet thing..please.

Again, this is none of my business but you have obviously put a lot of time in this site, and you apparently are truly caring person, and this is just not right. Thank you for your time.

This is my response:

My dear friend,

Please accept my deepest sympathy for all the deaths you've endured these last few years. I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been for you, and I am so very sorry for all your losses.

That said, I also want to thank you for writing to me to express directly to me your strong feelings about my addressing the death of a cherished pet on the same Web site as the death of a person. Because you were kind enough to write to me, you've given me the opportunity to explain why I've done this, and I greatly appreciate that. I don't know that you will find my explanation acceptable, but I will offer it anyway, just for your consideration.

First, I do indeed work for a hospice, but not as a volunteer. I am a certified bereavement counselor who's been with Hospice of the Valley here in Phoenix AZ for the last ten years. If you're willing to get past the home page of my Grief Healing Web site and explore some of the other pages there, you will find more information about me and my professional (as well as personal) background and experience, and learn how I came to be interested in the field of bereavement. See, for example, these pages on my site:

About Marty Tousley

Articles ~ Columns ~ Books

As I state on my site's home page, I am an animal lover too, and for the last 14 years I've also volunteered my time facilitating a monthly pet loss support group for the Companion Animal Association of Arizona, and I help to train volunteers for its Pet Loss Helpline as well.

You are not alone in your belief that pet loss does not begin to compare to the death of a person, and it may surprise you to learn that I agree with you completely. It is fruitless to compare anyone's loss with someone else's, regardless of what has been lost. The simple fact of the matter is that the worst loss is the loss that a person is experiencing now. Grief is the normal, human reaction to loss, and the greater the attachment to that which is lost, the stronger the grief one experiences in the wake of that loss. It is the price we pay for love.

As a grief counselor, it is not my place to tell another what he or she is "allowed" to love, nor is it my place to pass judgment on his or her attachments. Grief happens following all sorts of losses -- not just death. We grieve the loss of a limb, for example, when a leg is amputated, or the loss of a job we've loved, or the loss of our family home when it and everything in it burns to the ground. If we are deeply attached to an animal companion (and for some, a pet is the only friend they have in this world -- or in the case of a disabled person, it may be his very eyes, or his ears, or his helper) we grieve long and hard when that animal dies. Like any other loss, pet loss is real and for some, extremely painful. Is it different from human loss? Certainly. But that does not mean that it is not worthy of grief, and it does not mean that the bereaved animal lover should feel ashamed of his need for our compassion, understanding, and support.

I am passionate in my belief that we in the mental heath professions owe it to our colleagues, and to the public we serve, to do whatever we can to educate ourselves about this important issue of pet loss. For far too long we have disenfranchised bereaved animal lovers, and left them with nowhere to take their grief.

This is why I decided to address both person loss and animal loss on my Grief Healing Web site, and I am well aware that mine may be the only Web site to do so. I'm also well aware that some people may find this offensive ~ but if and when I am asked (as you were courteous enough to ask me in your message) I am more than happy to explain. I believe that both my Web sites (Grief Healing, and Hospice of the Valley’s Grief Healing Discussion Groups) serve an educational purpose as well as offering information, comfort and support to the bereaved, because both sites bring together people suffering from all types of loss, including pet loss. Anyone who is open-minded enough and willing to read the personal accounts of the bereaved animal lovers posting in our Loss of a Pet Forum simply cannot doubt the pain these people are feeling.

So I cordially invite you to do two things, if you are willing. First, read some of the articles I’ve written on the topic of pet loss. (You’ll find them listed under Pet Loss Articles, but you might begin with Am I Crazy to Feel So Sad About This?) Second, spend some time reading some of the posts in the Loss of a Pet Forum on our Grief Healing Discussion Groups Web site.

If after doing this you still feel offended by the work that I am doing, then all I can do is offer my sincere apology to you, and assure you that offending a person in mourning is the very last thing I would ever, ever want to do.

Most sincerely,

Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT

Bereavement Counselor

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Dear Maylissa,

I've lost my grandparents, my spouse, my stillborn granddaughter, my nephew and several pets. Some of these losses are much harder to cope with than others. When I read that man's response, it sounded like someone who was in such pain, that he couldn't see past his sorrow. Our world closes in with loss. We see what we feel. It was not necessary for him to react so incompassionately, yet that is where he is at. Maybe a better response is to pray for him and his family.

Of course, Marty says it better than I ever could.

Good luck,


Psst...I agree there should be an on-call vet in every town. When I was a kid, our lab had gotten loose and was running through fields. He crossed the road right when an oil truck was barreling down. The scene played out before me and I knew Smokey was going to be hit before it happened. There was nothing anyone could do. I was devasted. The driver's response was, "If it was my dog, I'd shoot it." I was outraged at his lack of sensitivity. We didn't have time to seek help. Smokey died within minutes.

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Thank you both, Marty and Kath, for your help with this. :)

I intend to use some choice ideas &/or quotes from you Marty, as best I can fit them in, as the other challenge is the paper's mere 400 word limit on letters! :blink: It's so hard to address such a large issue in such a limited amount of space, so I'm not sure even your credentials will fit! :P But since I'll likely be the only one in this place to even respond, I feel I need to do as bang-up a job as possible, so as to help re-educate all who read it. (I need a WEEKLY COLUMN OF MY OWN, really! :rolleyes: )

I did more research on this couple in the meantime and found out a few things. First, while this man may or may not have been a volunteer firefighter in our town at one time, someone else thinks his wife was possibly either an ambulance driver or paramedic or something here. But what IS a certain fact is that both of them are heavily into "ranch roping" of animals, so it's not too surprising then that they'd hold such disrespectful attitudes for animals. I also suspect it was really the wife who wrote this, given its high emotionality content.

The strange thing is, in an obit. for their father, there was NO mention of THEM having lost a child....only of a nephew of their father having predeceased him. There were no other obits. related to their names, so for all I know, they could have just been using this as some sort of excuse to rage against that woman's ideas and feelings. (I wouldn't put it past the people in this town to do such a thing...) I did, btw, consider that they may have lashed out partly in response to their own pain, uncalled for as that is, but now I'm doubting there even was such a loss for them. Many people in this town are just petty and cruel & can't stand to see animals given any consideration. Why do you think we don't have any Emerg. services for them in the first place? It wouldn't even cross the local vets' minds.

So Kath.....OMG, I'm so sorry you ever had to lose a beloved dog that way AND to have to suffer even more with that driver's horrid comment at the same time! But that's just the kind of thing you'd likely hear around this place, too, unfortunately. They DO shoot cats and dogs here, a LOT, and even far worse things that give me day-mares. But this is why I think it's so important for me to try my best to make inroads into this issue, in a paper that a lot of locals read. Of course, I can ALSO send healing thoughts this couple's way, too, but the letter is just as important. I just can't address ALL the issues in this one response, though, given that short word limit. (part of my frustration & challenge)

This poor dog would have suffered a MINIMUM of an hour, as I know what Emerg. clinic they finally ended up at in the city to the north. I also noted that this couple thought whoever did the "hit and run" shouldn't have ANY blame /responsibility/guilt/whatever you want to call it, attached to them, which is really screwy, too. But again, I may have little or no room for that issue, either.

Regardless of what I finally come up with, I may need a bodyguard for myself afterward, if it's even printed, that is. <_<:rolleyes:

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I'm reminded of Barbaro's taciturn and unemotional vet, Dr. Dean Richardson choking up during an interview about the horse's death after an 8 month struggle to save him.

"Emotionally it was just devastating....All the response is from people who understand the human animal connection.... The people who don't get that - don't get it.

I don't need to explain that to the people who "get it". Any of them would understand why you'd get choked up. Any of them would understand that you wouldn't...you know...(fighting back tears) ....that you wouldn't put a horse down without talking to him."


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That was a very touching video of Barbaro's vet's reaction. Thanks for sharing that. (although I'm still not a fan of any 'sport' that uses animals, regardless of his views on that) As they say, especially when we've had to deal with and provide support/aid for an illness or condition in our animals, the bonds become that much stronger. And if this was after only 8 months spent with him....it shouldn't be ANY stretch of the imagination to realize how much worse it is for us who've been our animal's parent, sometimes for almost decades. But yes, he's got it right -- those who don't get it, just don't get it. I often wonder, though....how is it that other humans can't or won't react at least to the obvious pain shown in others of their own darn species?!! Does the cause have to matter that much before they'll open their wizened hearts? As someone on another board said, one's own loss needn't diminish another's.

Anyway, I managed to get a letter done that was (only) about 100 words beyond their stated limit, so we'll see. They've published many others' longer letters before, so I'm hoping they won't chop mine to bits...if they print it at all.

I also did find out that this couple had lost a son, to a drowning, and if I recall correctly now, I think he was already a young adult. So, yes, their loss is real, and only about 2 years old (close to my own length of mourning), but I still maintain that the way they chose to attack this woman AND all other animal lovers was wholly uncalled for. They could have kept their contemptuous derision within the confines of the walls of their own home. When I was in searing agony over my own losses, I didn't go around stomping on other people's mourning, just because theirs wasn't the same as mine. It was people like THIS couple who made mine so much worse, almost everywhere I went.

Whether my letter makes any dent in their chosen armour or not, I hope it will reach at least a few others -- either other animal lovers who've suffered similarly, or those who've lashed out against us and perhaps may still change their minds, even a bit, now.

In fact, today marks 2 Years and 7 Months since I last held my own girl, Nissa, in my arms :( , and as I relive some of both the 'good' and the 'bad' moments of our lifetime together, and break down in tears throughout the day, I can't help reflect that it is directly BECAUSE of the pain in my own heart and soul that I simply cannot imagine maligning, out of hand, someone else's grief, no matter WHO or WHAT they consider worthy of their tears.

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  • 2 months later...

Well, I've come back, all this time later, just to let people know that even after 3 calls to the Editor of our paper, who told me he had my letter sitting right in his file, he has never published it in our paper. The first week, they made a mistake and mistakenly RE-published another letter I'd written (on a different matter) only a couple of weeks before, INSTEAD of this new one. That's when I spoke to the Editor again, and asked about my NEW letter getting in. He acted as if it was a "done deal." The next 2 wks. there was still no sign of my letter, so I called once more, having to leave a voice-mail message, which was never returned. And since then, nothing.

There was also a news story that was covered here, about a local drug house being raided. I noted there were 2 dogs mentioned briefly, but no further details on them. Later I spoke to my no-kill shelter friend and found out apparently there was a big problem in capturing one of these dogs, with neighbours having to leave out food and water, but no one allowed to step into this yard (since it was a crime scene area), and even the SPCA being given very little leeway in which to address this. The dog finally returned and was caught in a live trap....with NO food and water overnight, in a sudden, cold snowstorm, forced to sit all night on the cold metal of the trap floor, and no one allowed to help him. People were outraged....and wrote letters to the paper.......none of which were published, EITHER!

As I've said many times before, this town SUCKS when it comes to animals. In all of the now-18 yrs. I've lived here, nothing has changed for the good for animals and their status. And they call themselves "progressive" and search for headlining issues and projects to put them "on the map" in Canada. But animals??? Fahgeddaboudit! The more important the animal issue, the less coverage it ever gets, and when it does, it's slanted in favour of the 'bad guys', the liars, those in the town's back pockets.

THIS kind of garbage does nothing to help my grief, either! Now I know for certain that this town's officials (it's an old boy's club, including the paper) think it's O..K..A..Y to slam grieving animal guardians. We're nothing, and our grief doesn't matter a whit. And it was just these kinds of people who scared me into restricting my boy's jaunts (yes, even WITH us) many years ago, so that he ended up very frustrated and angry, which led to him developing a cancerous condition that killed him w/i a month. I can't help it -- I HATE this place! :(:angry2::(

~ as another note, one of my friends/clients has just passed away, and I also had a very upsetting experience with a lost doggie while we were on a short vacation recently...it all adds up to that much more grief to try and handle, in a place where no one gives a hoot....so I'm once again wishing I was back Home, with no one but my kidlets and their undeniable love.

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