July / August 2022 • TulsaPets 15 Sharing Precious Memories Grief for a Beloved Animal Is Valid and Deep by Heide Brandes | Photos courtesy of Johnny Perkins F or Johnny Perkins of Edmond, Ziggy Stardust was not just a beloved pet but almost like his child. For five years, Perkins and the orange tabby cat were buddies and constant companions through sadness, happiness, moves, and life changes. “When I first met Ziggy Stardust, he was the only kitten at the shelter pawing at me through his cage, but not in an aggressive, mean way,” said Perkins. From that point on, it was love between the young man and the ginger cat. “I always wanted an orange tabby in my life, and I think Ziggy sensed that. He knew we needed one another.” Last year, Perkins’ live-in girlfriend found Ziggy lying in the litter box after he had suffered an infected wound on his chest. “I can’t even relate how much that broke me, seeing him lying there. But I also knew I couldn’t let my main dude go out like that,” said Perkins. “I picked him up as gently as I could and cleaned him off. We wrapped him in a blanket and comforted him to the best of our ability.” Although Perkins and his girlfriend took Ziggy to a veterinarian and the cat was given antibiotics, the infection was just too much. As the cat’s life slowly ebbed away, Per- kins kept whispering to his best friend how much he loved him. “His final moment, he gave a short, mournful meow, shivered, and remained still,” said Perkins. “My only reaction was to keep repeating, ‘No, no, no, no, no, Ziggy, it’s not time to go.’ I cried a lot. I cried even now thinking about this. It’s actually com- ing up on the one-year anniversary of losing him, which I have marked in my calendar so I can take a day to remember him and love him.” For many pet owners, the grief of losing a pet can be overwhelming. All people grieve differently, but pet owners sometimes face the stigma that they should not feel the same grief as they would if another human had died. But experts say grieving the loss of a beloved companion is valid and under- standable. Here’s what you need to know about grief. Your Grief Is Valid According to the 2021–2022 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, 90.5 million homes — 70 percent of U. S. households — own a pet. Although the reasons for owning pets vary, the impact they have on our daily lives can be intense, said Oklahoma City licensed professional counselor Jennifer Couch. “We’re social beings. So when we bring an animal into our home, we care for it, and it becomes dependent on us. Animals have unconditional love. Every day when you come home, they’re excited to see you, and they’re always there when you’re sad,” she said. “During the last two years especially, a lot of people have started working from home, so they are constantly interacting and being together with their pets.” That unconditional love and dependence also form a special kind of bond. Animals are seen as innocent and loyal, so when that furry friend passes or has to be euthanized, the pain can be overwhelming. “People call their pets ‘fur babies.’ That’s not too far off when talking about the attachment you have. If you show pets love and kindness and tenderness, they will be there for all moments of your life,” Couch said. “I think that’s why grief is so hard when you lose pets. They’ve been a part of your life, intensely, day in and day out. I think we all grieve differently.” For some pet owners, weeks, months, and even years can pass in a haze of mourning for an animal. Sharing that mourning might be hard because other people can’t seem to understand experiencing that level of grief for “just an animal.” “Grief is very valid, and we can grieve really hard. But what we have to do is find that balance so we don’t become so overwhelmed with the grief to the point that it starts to interfere with our lives,” Johnny Perkins comforts Ziggy Stardust in his final moments in summer 2021.