Book offers tips on how to cope with the loss of a pet
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Losing a pet feels in many ways like losing a member of the family.
Noticing the mental distress such a loss causes, Rochesterian and licensed mental health counselor Anne Marie Farage-Smith, started a weekly virtual pet loss support group at the therapy practice she owns, Counseling Connections, in Rochester. She also wrote a book on the topic.
“This loss is enormous, and the impact is huge,” said Farage-Smith, 75 “We need to value and appreciate the relationship with pets. We wake up to them; we end our day with them. They add routine to our life, which is a good thing.
“It’s understandable that it’s a huge adjustment when we lose them. It’s a unique relationship. Those routines bring a sense of order and purpose to your lifestyle. There are secondary losses that go along with that, like the loss of that sense of order and the loss of the relationship.”
Farage-Smith’s book, “Healing Wisdom for Pet Loss: An Animal Lover’s Guide to Grief,” will be in print in June 2024.
Farage-Smith’s first career was in education. At age 57, she returned to college, attending St. John Fisher in 2007 to earn a second master’s degree. She found the atmosphere at St. John Fisher very welcoming and even had a few classmates around her age.
Farage-Smith began working as a therapist in 2009. She had always wanted to work in mental health and when she left teaching, “a desire to have a mental health career bubbled up again. I loved teaching; it was great. But I wanted to do something else that had interested me for so many years. I love to learn; I’m a lifelong learner so it was an easy decision.”
One of the biggest surprises of her second career was the need for de-stigmatizing mental health treatment. She compares mental health to physical health. Seeking professional help for either should bear no stigma.
As for her book, that effort stems from her love for animals and that the loss of a pet is brushed aside.
“Some say ‘You can get another dog’ or ‘Get another cat,’” she said. “But every relationship with each pet is unique. That’s a good thing. I felt it was a loss that is also disenfranchised in our society.”
This is despite one-third of American households owning at least one dog and one-fourth having at least one cat, plus other pets.
“Pets are very important to us as they make our life richer in meaning, among so many things,” Farage-Smith added.
The book discusses the human–animal bond, why it’s important and why it hurts so much when death severs the bond and the types of grief triggered with the loss of a pet. It also offers strategies for working through the grieving process, including ideas for fostering comfort through honoring deceased pets.
“If you feel you might have complicated grief and you want to talk with a counselor, the book talks about how to find one,” Farage-Smith said. “It ends with embracing change and hope and new routines so you can carry on. People ask, ‘When is a new time to get a new pet?’ It talks about this. But even if you don’t get a new pet right away, there are still ways to interact with animals by volunteering like taking dogs for walks at shelters like Lollipop Farm or Verona Street. You can maybe walk your neighbor’s dog until you are ready to take a dog into your home. Or maybe you never will.”
Farage-Smith’s book is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.