Special gathering to grieve the loss of a loved pet

They are a comfort, a confidante but best of all they give love unconditionally.

Tracy Westmoreland (left) of the local branch of the BC SPCA and Kelly Phipps of the Penticton and District Hospice Society's Bereavement Resource Centre with pets Murphy and Charly spend a quiet moment at the pet cemetery Thursday. The two organizations are hosting a special pet memorial service Sunday

Tracy Westmoreland (left) of the local branch of the BC SPCA and Kelly Phipps of the Penticton and District Hospice Society's Bereavement Resource Centre with pets Murphy and Charly spend a quiet moment at the pet cemetery Thursday. The two organizations are hosting a special pet memorial service Sunday

They are a comfort, a confidante but best of all they give love unconditionally.

So how do people cope with the loss of a four-legged family member? Where do they go to find the solace to begin the healing process and move on?

These are just some of the issues organizers plan to address at the first Pet Memorial Service planned for Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Penticton Seniors Drop-In Centre.

Arranged through the Penticton and District Hospice Society Bereavement Resource Centre and BC SPCA, those who have lost pets are invited to attend the special gathering in remembrance and celebration of those lives.

“The loss of a pet is a huge loss and needs to be afforded the sensitivity that we would offer any major loss in our life,” said facilitator Sam (Sandra) Lucier who was involved in a similar service in June for parents who had lost children. “We will gather around the memories of those pets we’ve loved and lost.”

According to Kelly Phipps, program director for the centre, to many people their pets are their children.

“For those who do not have pets this may be hard to understand but to those who do, it can be a very difficult time,” she said. “In this service those who do have pets will be in a place where everybody there also understand the loss.

“This is an opportunity to say goodbye and honour their memory.”

In her time as branch manager at the regional BC SPCA Tracy Westmoreland knows there is a very real need for some form of help.

“I have shared tears and quiet sorrow with so many loving pet owners needing to share their memories and sorrows after losing that special bond,” she said. “For many people, pets fill a profound emotional need, they provide a source of unconditional love, acceptance and welcome that few humans could match.”

Often for many people — especially those who don’t get the proper support — the initial reaction is to resolve to never get another animal. But eventually though, as Phipps has learned through personal experience, even that can change.

“We lost our dog last year and we just now have opened up our home and our hearts to bring a new one in,” she said. “We recognized we do have enough love to bring another pet in to share our lives with us.”

“I think initially people often hurt so much it’s so hard to say goodbye and think I can’t go through that hurt again. but then you realize how much you are missing. They do make a house a home.”

The service begins at 1:30 p.m. and people are asked to bring a picture of their pet no larger than 5 x 7 inches.