BOOKS: Going Home—Finding Peace When an Animal Dies

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2011:

Going Home:  Finding Peace When an Animal Dies  by Jon Katz
Random House (1745 Broadway,  New York,  NY 10019),  2011.  166 pages,  hardcover.  $22.00.

Going Home is a guide for grieving animal owners that thrusts itself into a very crowded field.  An Internet search at turns up at least 250 titles under “pet loss.”  And Jon Katz’s fictionalized book is far from original.  According to Katz,  the incidents in Going Home did happen,  but he “changed names and personal characteristics” of people involved.  So the stories Katz tells may not have actually happened as Katz relates them.

Every pet keeper experiences loss.  This is part of life with animals.  Katz uses his own dog Orson,  a second-hand border collie, as an example.  Bad habits and biting send Orson prematurely to the bridge.  Katz spends a small fortune on trainers,  medicine, psychics,  shamans, etc. to try to correct Orson’s maladaptive behavior,  all to no avail.  Finally Katz decides to euthanize his dog.  A bitter period follows.  Katz says grief scares him.  He feels isolated and alone.

Writing is a way to heal;  he uses his experiences so other pet keepers can overcome the death of a pet. Guilt is common among keepers who opt for euthanasia,  even when the pet is critically ill.  A pet keeper may feel responsible because she didn’t have enough money for her dog’s expensive surgery.  A few poems about recovery might soothe grieving owners.  There is a discussion about acquiring another pet.  Some people adopt or visit a breeder right away.  Others are so distraught they can never keep another pet,  while many just wait a while until the time seems right.

Reading a book may not assuage the hurt that some pet keepers feel.  Some animal shelters,  hospices, and veterinarians now provide group and/or individual counseling for people grieving for lost pets.

A discussion about pet loss and children is useful.  A pet’s death may be a child’s first experience with loss.  A family should be open and honest with children about the pet’s death,  but gentle in their explanations.

A section about how animal shelter workers cope with loss would be a welcome addition. Most pet loss books don’t cover it. Katz doesn’t either.  Shelters workers often experience death and dying,  sometimes daily. They frequently become attached to resident dogs and cats and have feelings about their loss.  Rarely are they given the opportunity to express sorrow,  anger,  or grief. –Debra J. White

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