The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice From Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups


Introduction: The Circle of Love and Grief


       For a combined total of more than three decades, Nancy and I have led support groups for people whose dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, horses, and fish—yes, even fish—have died. We’ve been trusted with tales of love and grief, each one helping us better understand what it means to be a human being, deepening our appreciation for life and the relationships we cherish. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a young therapist, a wise woman told me that we inevitably pay for our love with grief— “inevitably” because all relationships end. She also promised that love proves to be worth its cost every time. We’ve seen the truth in her words countless times in stories told by people after losing their companion animals. We wrote this book to share what we’ve learned.

       Companion animals draw our attention in a unique way. Not long ago while on vacation, my spouse, our two best friends, and I ambled toward our docked cruise ship along a busy street in Ireland’s seaport town of Cobh. We marveled at the pastels of yellow, pink, and green row houses lining our steep descent, the grey stone cathedral, and the water directly ahead that mirrored the sky’s rainy blue and filled the serpentine contours from harbor to horizon. The sights and sounds of this foreign place captivated us.

       Suddenly, a small bouncing fluff of white grabbed our attention in a way that pushed everything else aside. Ten paces ahead a young Irishman’s West Highland white terrier had jumped up from his sit and stay. One after another, people smiled and dodged the ten-week-old puppy. Many of us couldn’t resist stopping. Smiling broadly, the young man told us he was teaching his pup street manners. After the rest of us stroked the puppy’s head, my friend, David, scooped her up, and cooed “Aren’t you adorable!” He held her against his face. Smitten.

Making Love, Playing Power: Men, Women, and the Rewards of Intimate Justice



       What if the measure of a man was his willingness to love? What a different world this would be, and what a difference we’d find within family and couple relationships.


       Men can love. To some people, this may come as a surprise. They still believe that men can't handle the emotional heavy lifting that love sometimes requires, and only women can shoulder the real work of couple relationships. This kind of thinking finds its roots in patriarchy, the worldwide system that puts men in charge and assigns women service work, including the day-to-day work of maintaining relationships. The good news is that a growing number of people, men and women alike, no longer accept this arrangement. Instead, they seek couple partnerships based upon love, mutual respect, and fairness. Building such partnerships presents major challenges, however, because the world has a way of pulling us back into the old patriarchal mold.

       This book will help you resist that pull and create lasting positive changes in your couple relationship.

       Patriarchy hurts everybody. Amazingly, most relationship-help books tiptoe around this fact. Not this book. I describe exactly what this beast called patriarchy looks like, how it wreaks havoc upon couple relationships, and how we keep it alive despite the fact that it does none of us any good. I offer “principles of love” that provide firm ground for partnership, discuss the important role that different kinds of power play within relationships, and describe what fairness looks like. I show you how to make healthy changes within your daily life. Using the information, exercises, and “action steps” within this book, you and your partner can build a lasting relationship based upon mutual respect and fairness rather than the old rules of patriarchy.

       Whether or not it’s overtly stated, most relationship-help books focus on women. In keeping with patriarchal thinking, these books presume that women are and always will be far more willing than men to take responsibility for relationship matters. But I see this pattern shifting as my male therapy clients claim an increasing degree of responsibility within their important relationships. The book focuses on men in order to promote this hopeful trend. I spotlight men’s beliefs, expectations, and choices that often contribute to relationship problems but go unacknowledged (much less challenged), and in doing so, I bring much needed balance to the way we understand the relationship equation. My recommendations for both men and women show how to transform these patterns.