Farewell to furry friends

The idea struck Melba Atkinson in 1998, when it came time to euthanize her 15-year-old Yellow Lab, Daisy. “It was our second pet to die in a year, and we had three more that were coming along,” Atkinson remembers.
    Struggling with the losses of her beloved companions, Atkinson decided to found the Charlottesville Pet Loss Support Group, and now, four years later, the group continues to meet twice a month, on the first and third Monday from 7 to 8:30pm in the Real Estate III building on 29N across from Wal-Mart.
    After the loss of a pet, “people expect you to move on quickly,” says Atkinson. But, she explains, it’s a lot like the loss of a human loved one: it takes time to grieve.
    Atkinson is not a counselor, but one of her two co-facilitators, Laurie McDade, is a licensed counselor. Both McDade and the third co-facilitator, Laura Dorman, first attended the group as grieving pet owners. The three women take turns pairing up to facilitate meetings, and run a website, www.charlottesvillepetloss.com.
    For the hour-and-a-half meetings, Atkinson says, the “peer-lead support group” listens to stories about the animals and about the owners’ experiences and feelings of loss. “It’s a normal process to go through,” she says, but often people mourning an animal feel foolish and alone.
    Atkinson adds that the group is not just for people who have lost dogs or cats— it's even for those mourning the loss of a goldfish.
    “If you miss ’em,” Atkinson says, “you get to come.”