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Special Report: Saying goodbye to Fido; How to deal with grief over losing a pet

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SARASOTA, FL. (WWSB) - Every owner dreads the day when they have to say goodbye to their furry friends.

ABC 7's Jacqueline Matter digs into what you need to know when it comes to dealing with grief over losing a pet.

So, what is it about dogs and cats that make them so precious to us?

"We consider them soulmates," says Marsha Panuce, owner of Donte's Den in Sarasota.

Veterinarian Stephanie Lantry says, "Some people, it's the only companion they have."

"The love is unconditional," says grief counselor, Ken Kinzie.

And for some, "They become your family," says P.J. Perrin-Haw. 

For Perrin-Haw and her husband, their border collies Bentley and Royce were just that.

"They're just a constant in your life, you can go out and have a bad day but you come home and they're there."

The Haw's, like many pet owners, included their dogs in daily activities sharing life's ups, downs, joys and sorrows.

"They were with us 24/7, I'm so grateful for those ten years I was able to spend the time with them, we just had such wonderful memories," P.J. Perrin-Haw says.

Wonderful memories that for now, are clouded with Bentley's passing in January.

"We started seeing the decline where it was just a couple of days where we knew that was it," she continued to say.

In those matter of days, the Haw's say making their pet comfortable was their main priority.

"You really have to start mentally making that decision what you're going to do to help him," she says. "So even though it's like the hardest decision, we decided to do it at home. "

It's something that every pet owner might want to start planning for now, just in case.

Veterinarian Stephanie Lantry says, "If you have an older pet or a sick pet, it's important to talk to your veterinarian about what to look for at home of signs that the pet may be nearing its end of life."

"If something happens as an emergency or if your pet passes away at night or during the weekend you want to make sure where the nearest veterinary emergency clinic would be."

The Haw's say they opted for putting Bentley to sleep in the very house he called home.

"Sometimes people feel like they don't want to make that decision, but I thought it would be worse if he died and we weren't right there with him. At least this way we were holding him, we were able to tell him how much he meant to us," Perrin-Haw says.

Lantry says you should plan now for how you'd like to have the pet remembered after they pass.  

You can choose pet cremation services, burials or just saying goodbye at the vets office and perhaps taking home the collar.

At Donte's Den in Sarasota, you'll find a memorial garden which is one of many pet cemeteries on the Suncoast that look to honor the lives of our furry friends.

"We want them to have the same dignity that we would be looking for and the same respect," says Marsha Panuce, owner and founder of Donte's Den. 

"So Gino's Memorial Garden is kind of the last stepping stone for them, as well as us."

There, you'll notice a rainbow bridge scattered with fading paw prints signifying the transition from life to death.

Though some may suggest the death of a dog or cat is not as significant, the grieving process is just as real and painful.

"The denial process, they go through the anger process, they go through the guilt process, so our role is to help them normalize they're reaction to it," says grief counselor, Ken Kinzie.

Part of that process is the life leading up to your pet's passing and remembering the times well spent.

"It's important to take pictures and do things that you can keep your pets memory when they're gone," said Dr. Lantry.

Memories that millions of Americans are fortunate enough to share, as many of us who have loved a dog know your pet is never just a pet.

"Hopefully someday I'll be at the point where I can just celebrate Bentley's life but I'm not there yet," said Perrin-Haw.

"They'll always think there is something I could've done, they're's something I should've done but you can just do what you can with what you've got."

When it comes to coping with the loss of a pet, the American Kennel Club offers these suggestions.

- Express grief openly

- Make an effort to be thankful for the joyful experiences

- Spend time with others who have lost a dog

- Seek bereavement groups for other dog owners

- Be sensitive to the loss experienced by all family members, as well as other household pets

- Memorialize the life of the beloved pet

- Donate to an animal-related charity in honor of the pet

- Take time to grieve before bringing home a new animal

- Remember to celebrate the new pet's own uniqueness and personality

Dr. Lantry says the following guidelines are helpful for identifying when your dog needs to seek medical help or attention due to old age or some type of illness.

- Not eating or drinking

- Withdrawn or lethargic

- Neglecting himself

- Signs of pain

- Unwillingness to move

- Tumors or injuries

- Lack of energy

If you are looking for a grief support to help you cope with the loss of a pet, there are some local support groups on the Suncoast.

- Bentley's House meets monthly on the third Thursday from 7pm-8pm at the Unity Church on Proctor Rd.

- Tidewell Hospice meets the first Tuesday of every month at 2pm at the Englewood -Tidewell office, specifically for those grieving with pet loss. They also hold generic grief and loss support groups at seven of their offices on the Suncoast at various times throughout the week. For information on those groups or to register, call 941-894-1794.

Below you will find a list of pet cemeteries and memorial gardens on the Suncoast.

- Donte's Den, Gino's Memorial Garden: 6801 283rd St. E., Myakka City. 844-366-8373

- Venice Pet Cemetery & Crematory: 1950 Center Rd., Venice 941-493-4246

- Belspur Oaks Pet Crematory: 2122 Whitfield Park Ave., Sarasota 941-751-5044

- Sarasota Pet Crematory: 1410 Commerce Blvd., Sarasota 941-355-6000

- The Pet Loss Center: 6091 Johns Road, Suite 5 & 6, Tampa 813-999-4049

Some employers also offer pet bereavement for employees. You can also visit the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement at www.aplb.org/index.php.