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Pet owners should find a way to grieve a loss

For his dog's final resting place Topher Gleasselected 50-gallplastic container so his family could add words love farewell.  |

For his dog's final resting place, Topher Gleason selected a 50-gallon plastic container so his family could add words of love and farewell. | submitted photo

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Updated: October 12, 2012 6:08AM

Topher Gleason of Joliet nearly tripped over a piece of wood, a remnant from a silver maple tree that had fallen in a recent storm. The piece was perfect for his dog’s memorial plaque, so Gleason picked it up and brought it to his basement workshop.

Gleason already had devised a coffin for Harleigh from a 50-gallon plastic container, which now also held Harleigh’s bed, blanket and toys. Outside, Gleason and his family had written messages of love and farewell.

Still, Gleason needed more closure without, he said, closing the book. So although Gleason had never woodworked, he planned a design and selected a verse from Job that resonated with his feelings. Beginning the plaque, however, was painfully difficult.

“I sat down and cried pretty hard,” Gleason said, “then I spent six hours putting my heart into it.”

Because owners often grieve the death of their pets with intensity similar to mourning close relatives, the Humane Society of America offers the following coping tips:

Permission to express sorrow.

Reaching out to sympathetic ears.

Journaling or writing poetry.

Joining a pet loss support group.

Preparing a memorial and encouraging children to express their sadness.

Mourning a beloved pet

Gleason’s son Courtright, 6, had responded to Harleigh’s impending death by hitting his chest, and saying, “Men don’t cry.” Gleason responded with, “Yes, they do when it comes to their dogs,” and drew a now crying Courtright onto his lap.

In 1998, Gleason had been hoping to buy an American bulldog when he found 11-month-old Harleigh, an American Staffordshire terrier, covered in dirt and fleas and living in a basement. Harleigh blossomed at Gleason’s home. She ceased bathroom accidents, listened well, never barked and became playful, loyal and obedient.

As Gleason’s family grew, so did Harleigh’s love. She adored Gleason’s wife Jaymi and became a protective “big sister” to Courtright and Presleigh, 3. Harleigh might swipe an occasional morsel from the kids, but she never touched the food on Gleason’s plate.

Harleigh passed her 10th birthday, the usual life expectancy for her breed, and kept going until she developed hip dysplasia and lost weight. Despite a strict diet and vitamins, the day came when Harleigh could no longer walk. For her final meal, Gleason prepared a steak.

Regarding the euthanasia, Gleason anticipated a single injection and then peace. Harleigh required six and went out, he said, like a true Gleason. “She fought to stay by my side where she’d always been,” Gleason said.

Expressing the sorrow

The ways to address loss and honor deceased pets are as varied as their owners but what’s most important, according to the Argus Institute at Colorado State University, is that owners express their sorrow. Suppressing it may prolong the healing process.

For instance, Kathryn Dunlap of Plainfield wears a dog tag inscribed with the name of each of her dogs, but others, such as Cindy Harvey of Joliet, find consolation in ceremony. On Easter Sunday, Harvey buried the ashes of Cashew, 17, in a pet garden, although she had cremated Cashew in November.

Others prefer to display a pet’s remains. Amanda Caponi of Joliet keeps the ashes of her dog Tony inside her China cabinet. Joe and Sandy Gerettie of Shorewood created a memorial vestibule for the ashes of Joe’s mother, Sandy’s uncle and the couple’s Shepherd, Sox, which sits next to a photo of Sox and Joe.

Marianne Searing of Joliet placed the ashes of Maggie, her yellow Labrador, on a living room shelf, but her cat Simba is buried under a rose bush from Searing’s father. Jim Chuporak of Joliet set the ashes from his first dog at the garden window where Dudley had watched and waited for his master. In life, Chuporak’s other pets enjoyed lying under the lilac bushes, now their final resting places.

The ashes of a 12-year-old Husky sit in full view on the dining room mantle because her owner, Serena Diosa of Plainfield, still considers Mayla part of her family. The love she and Mayla once shared comforts Diosa, but as a Christian, Diosa also looks forward to the day Mayla greets her at heaven’s gates.

“We will cross the rainbow bridge together,” Diosa said.

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