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Saying Goodbye to a Friend: Community Care After the Death of A Pet

 One listener honors his grief over the loss of his pit bull/boxer mix Frances with a portrait of her. She's on the right, with her sister Mackenzie on the left.
Erik Magnus
One listener honors his grief over the loss of his pit bull/boxer mix Frances with a portrait of her. She's on the right, with her sister Mackenzie on the left.

There is deep, difficult grief that comes with the death of a pet. And yet, pet loss is often an example of disenfranchised grief — grief not acknowledged or considered “valid” by mainstream culture.

Host Anita Rao talks with two people about the significance of losing pets and the realities of the grief process. Corban Smith got his dog, Dallas, as a puppy when he was 19, and cared for Dallas as he experienced seizures in the last years of his life. Sarina Manifold, a licensed clinical social worker with specialized training in veterinary social work, helps pet owners through end-of-life decision-making and conducting memorial ceremonies.

Smith is an adjunct professor at James Madison University and a jail/emergency services clinician at Valley Community Services Board. Manifold is also a certified grief recovery specialist and the owner of Authentic Healing Counseling.

In the network of care created for those experiencing the loss of a pet, veterinarians often do more of the supporting than being supported. Rao talks with Dr. Erika Lin-Hendel about the mental toll this takes on vets and what can be done to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue in veterinary communities. Dr. Lin-Hendel is a relief veterinarian and board member for Not One More Vet, a mental health advocacy group for veterinarians.

Thanks to Christine Stone, Angela, Haley and Erik Magnus for their contributions to this episode.

Ways to Memorialize Your Pet

Have a Paw Imprint Made

Many veterinary practices will offer to make a clay imprint of your pet’s paw after they die, which can serve as a reminder of them.

“I have the clay paw impression next to the urn, and I've got a candle beside that. And it's just a space where if I really want to stay connected with my animal, I go there.” - Sarina Manifold

Attend a Memorial Celebration and Make Art

In social worker Sarina Manifold’s time working at the University of Tennessee, she facilitated a celebration featuring an art project.

“Memory boxes, making a memory candle, doing picture collages — just things like that can be really helpful for people.”

Spread Their Ashes

If your pet has been cremated, visit a space they loved and spread the ashes there.

“When we went back home [to Alabama] for Christmas that year, we took his ashes with us, and we spread them where he seemed the happiest.” - Corban Smith

Donate Your Animal’s Old Items or Your Time Towards Other Pets

Passing on toys or volunteering with a local shelter can be a way to give things that made them happy new appreciation and honor your animal’s role in your life.

“There are a lot of people who end up volunteering at animal shelters, or volunteering with a rescue after their animal’s death as a way to honor what their animal did for them.” - Sarina Manifold

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Kaia Findlay is a producer for The State of Things, WUNC's daily, live talk show. Kaia grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a household filled with teachers and storytellers. In elementary school, she usually fell asleep listening to recordings of 1950s radio comedy programs. After a semester of writing for her high school newspaper, she decided she hated journalism. While pursuing her bachelor’s in environmental studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, she got talked back into it. Kaia received a master’s degree from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism, where she focused on reporting and science communication. She has published stories with Our State Magazine, Indy Week, and HuffPost. She most recently worked as the manager for a podcast on environmental sustainability and higher education. Her reporting passions include climate and the environment, health and science, food and women’s issues. When not working at WUNC, Kaia goes pebble-wrestling, takes long bike rides, and reads while hammocking.
Anita Rao is the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content. She has traveled the country recording interviews for the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps production department, founded and launched a podcast about millennial feminism in the South, and served as the managing editor and regular host of "The State of Things," North Carolina Public Radio's flagship daily, live talk show. Anita was born in a small coal-mining town in Northeast England but spent most of her life growing up in Iowa and has a fond affection for the Midwest.