21 years ago Bev Ashwin said goodbye to her very first dog, Mocha.
Heartbroken, she decided to go to a Pet Loss Support Group meeting.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me, so I just started volunteering,” Ashwin said. “I saw that I could help people by sharing my experiences.”
Now she facilitates the group meetings twice a month, helping other people going through what she experienced, and would go through many times over.
“I’ve lost five dogs – I’ve got five urns at home,” she said.
“I understand exactly where these people have come from. I know what they are going through.”
Ashwin said often those grieving the loss of a pet just don’t have the support they need.
“They don’t have anybody that understands – people just say, ‘get another pet.'”
Jackie Lohman started going to the support group about a year ago after losing her yellow lab, Tucker.
“He was in my life for almost 15 years. He meant everything to me – he was my baby,” said Lohman. “He was always there for support, cuddles, love.”
“No one quite understood the level of love depth I had for my dog, so when I lost him just that emptiness I felt wasn’t quite being filled from those closest around me.”
She says the support group saved her during a devastating time and sharing helped most in the healing process.
“All the grief I was going through, the pain, it was really hard opening up like that, but I just felt comfortable,” she said. “It felt natural being there and just being with like-minded people.”
Whether it’s chatting one-on-one or in a group, it’s ultimately about helping others recognize they’re not alone in their grief.
“Losing a pet hurts just as much as losing a person in your life and that’s why this group is so important,” Lohman said. “These people get it.”
During the bi-monthly gatherings Ashwin gives people tools for coping. She also started a Facebook group as a way to reach out.
“I have scrapbooks and handouts that I can give them,” said Ashwin. “Things that I’ve done to get through – lighting candles or journaling.”
“Our pets are part of the family – they are important,” Ashwin added. “Grieving a pet is normal.”