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a pet — that somehow they are not entitled to do so. “The assumption is that if you lose a pet, you should feel bad for three or four days and then get over it,” Sharon said. “And if you don’t, people think there’s something wrong with you. It’s very hard for people who aren’t attached to an animal or don’t particularly like animals to understand the connection we have with our pets, or the pain we feel when a pet dies.” Pat Shipman, a noted anthropologist and author of The Animal Connection, explains that what began as a relationship necessary for survival evolved into a unique bond between humans and animals — evidenced today by our desire to keep pets. “Humans are the only species on Earth to have one-to-one relationships with a member of another species,” said Shipman. “It is a unique human attribute. We get so much from animals, much more than we appreciate.” In reality, the sense of loss for a pet can

mirror that for a human, especially for people for whom the loss invokes unresolved issues or results in extreme loneliness or a sense of purposelessness, according to Sharon. Pet loss can be particularly trying for those who decide to have an animal euthanized. “Then you might be dealing with a lot of guilt and wondering if you did the right thing, and you have to figure out what to do with that while you grieve the loss of the pet,” Sharon said. “It can be very, very difficult.” The pet loss support group is Sharon’s passion, and her way of giving back to a caring Berks County, Pa., community. She also works as a behavioral specialist consultant/mobile therapist. And, one day a week, she provides therapy for clients with dual diagnosis of drug/ alcohol and mental health problems. Her decision to establish a pet loss support group was motivated by a loss of her own. Miss Pumpkin, Sharon’s much-loved beagle had died, and she was troubled by the loss. When she needed to come up with an idea for a senior project during the last year of her master’s degree, a support group seemed to be a good solution. She queried some local veterinarians to see if they thought people who had lost pets would attend a support group with others experiencing the same loss. Their answer was a resounding “yes.” “So, I did some research and put together a lot of information on pet loss,” Sharon said. “And, before too long I was meeting with people who needed a safe place to share their feelings about losing their pets.” Meeting once a month in a local library, the group fluctuates in size and makeup of attendees. Some are parents who want to be able to help children cope with the impending loss of a pet, while others are people who live alone and are badly missing an animal that has died. Couples without children, whose pet may have taken on the role of a child, also depend on the group. Sharon is not concerned with how many people show up or who they are, only that they get the help they need and find some solace. “I’m trying to help people to heal, and often, this is the only place they can go to do Continued on page 60

Marianne Sharon, M’11 says it’s OK and even helpful to mourn the loss of a cherished pet. Alvernia University Magazine


Alvernia Magazine Summer 2012  

Alvernia Magazine Summer 2012