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Pet loss support groups offer a way for pet lovers to grieve

11:29 PM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
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  • A picture of Coco.
    

The loss of a pet can be a traumatic experience on a family. For some, the pain can be too much and many are now turning to pet loss support groups for help.

Cameras aren't usually allowed inside a group meeting, but several people agreed to show us the healing process and how the group works to save human lives.

Greg and Vicki Kopf adopted Coco when she was 10 weeks old. She was part of their family for nearly 13 years. Then one day, she was gone.

"Please keep her alive long enough so I can say goodbye and we did," said Victoria Kopf.

Her husband, Gregory, said, "That was tough. That was tough to walk in and see your baby like that."

Coco was their baby. So, her death was like losing a child.

At first they didn't know where to turn for support. Then, they heard about the University of Tennessee Pet Loss Support Group which formed in 2008.

Each week there are different faces and each year the number of those suffering increases.

"I think we are seeing a shift in the relationships that people are identifying openly about their animal," said social worker Sarina Lyall. "They are not outside animals. They are coming into the home."

That shift in relationship means these groups are more popular. In the beginning, only one or two people would come. Now, Sarina Lyall sees on average five or six people every other week, "Often times, the support group is the place to talk about how we come to the support group, how we relate to our animals, and that it is often times a child, or a family member, or a best friend."

Lyall is a staff social worker with veterinary social work at UT. She admits pet death and its grief are still hard for some to understand.

"It's not generally understood or supported," she said.

For some, it can be devastating, and having a place like the group to open up can be a life saver.

Lyall explained, "We hope to help them maybe educate others that when they are saying, 'It's just a dog,' they can say, 'not to me.'"

Belinda Folger owned Gracie, who passed away nearly two years ago. The group has helped her slowly heal.

"It's been a blessing. It's probably saved my life because I was close to suicide because of Gracie," she said.

Every other week, the group meets on the UT campus. Sometimes you'll see tears and other times laughter, but every time, it's about sharing.

The group session is a safe place, a judgement free zone.

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