In the mid ‘80s, Enid Traisman, Certified Grief Counselor, began approaching vet clinics with the idea of facilitating support groups for people who’d lost their companion animals, the response was not welcoming. “They could not relate to my request,” Traisman recalls. “Death and loss were not subjects open for discussion.”
Fortunately, one of the doors she knocked on was DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital. The staff was enthusiastic, and in 1986 Traisman became director of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program, only the third of its kind in the country at the time. The program has since expanded to include community services such as memorial art therapy workshops, a memorial tree, and online support, making the grief program a cornerstone of DoveLewis’s community outreach.
For Traisman, the growth of these programs signifies the importance of the human-animal bond and the necessity of providing a venue for people to grieve and share openly with others. “The people who are attending group are connected to their pets on the deepest level,” Traisman says. “There is no fear of ridicule so it allows a person to feel safe enough to share their own fears. Also, hearing what other people have gone through provides hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. They feel so much less alone and isolated.”
Traisman also encourages people who are preparing for the loss of a terminally ill or aged pet to attend. “It’s extremely helpful because people have really huge questions, so they’re able to share some of their concerns and get some really helpful ideas before the event.”
Memorial Art Therapy workshops have been a popular addition to Dove’s Pet Loss Support Program, allowing people to create artful mementos such as memorial candles, picture frames, fused glass pendants or paperweights with ashes — which can be so helpful for people working through their grief.
“Research shows that art and healing come from the same source,” Traisman says. “Creating art gives a voice and language to unknown feelings in a way that people can’t with words because the pain is so deep. It’s a real shift from support groups where people are sharing their stories.” She adds that no one need be an artist to attend — the crafts are designed to be simple. In fact, workshops are presented in three sessions: one for families with children 10 and older, one for teens and adults, and one for family groups.
Throughout her tenure, Traisman has been inspired by the people who come together, during one of the most difficult periods of their lives, to find healing amongst each other. “It’s like a big hug because it validates that emotional response to the death of a companion animal which, for those of us who have been blessed to tap into that and share that human-animal bond, know how much it hurts.”
“It continues to be such an honor. I meet the cream of the crop of the animal-loving community, and, the board of directors and administration here at DoveLewis has supported the growth of the program every step of the way.”
Traisman also greatly appreciates the partnership with Dignified Pet Services. Owner Michael Remsing feels the connection is a natural one. “It’s another way to give back to our community,” he says. “Between the Pet Remembrance Journal, support groups, art therapy workshops and the Service of Remembrance, we’re able to take everybody full circle.”
Learn more about grief support services available through DoveLewis at DoveLewis.org.