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Bingham Farms

May 8, 2013

Humane Society hosts support group for those who have lost a beloved pet

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

BINGHAM FARMS  —  For many, the death of a pet is just as emotional as the loss of any other family member. But support for that loss can sometimes be hard to find.

“Family members, coworkers, friends — they may not truly understand what it’s like to lose a best friend,” said Jamahl Scott, volunteer programs manager for Michigan Humane Society. “To some people, an animal is just an animal. But for (a pet owner), it’s walking into that house and not being greeted anymore. They were greeted at the door for 20 years, and now that’s gone.”

That’s why, Scott said, MHS began hosting monthly support group sessions for people who have experienced the loss of a pet and need a forum to share their feelings, memories and grief. The Paw Prints grief support group meets noon-1:30 p.m. every first Saturday at the MHS office in Bingham Farms.

According to Nancy Gunnigle, spokesperson for MHS, the idea for Paw Prints was inspired by one of the shelter’s longtime volunteers, Ken Golos, who after losing several pets over the years, expressed an interest in developing a program with MHS to help others through their own grief.

Golos said he wanted to create a place where people can go to remember their pets in an environment where they’ll be welcomed and won’t be judged for mourning their friend, who some might insist was “just an animal.”

“For some people, the pet is their only friend in the whole world, so I thought what a good idea to have some place to go — a place known to love animals — and bring your pictures and your stories and your hankies, and everyone in the room will understand what you are going through,” said Golos in an email.

Each free session is guided by facilitator Joy Silverstein, a professional pet grief counselor. While Scott said that Silverstein isn’t meant to act as a psychologist, she does often recommend books and other reading to help participants sort through their feelings.

“It’s an open forum, and each person comes in and shares a story about their beloved pet. They can bring mementos, collars, leashes or a favorite toy. Some keep journals about the life that they had with their pet. Then, they talk to other members about what they’re doing to kind of cope with that loss,” said Scott. “We don’t do any advising at all — it’s not a counseling session. Sometimes just talking out loud helps you overcome that void of missing that animal.”

Scott added that when Paw Prints was started back in January, it was decided that the sessions should be held at the MHS office in Bingham Farms, as opposed to one of the shelter locations.

“Some people might see the animals and adopt out of impulse. Or they might see someone turning an animal over to us and get upset,” he said. “It’s a neutral ground at our administrative office.”

The Paw Prints sessions are held the first Saturday of each month from noon-1:30 p.m., with the exception of major holidays. The group is free to attend, though reservations are requested, as light refreshments are served. For more information, visit www.michiganhumane.org/paw prints, call (248) 283-1000, ext. 179, or email pawprints@michi ganhumane.org.

The Michigan Humane Society Administrative Office is located at 30300 Telegraph Road, suite 220, in Bingham Farms.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.