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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Amy Defibaugh was teaching her "Death and Dying" comparative-religion course at Temple University when her beloved 14-year-old border collie, Macey, died.
"I knew Macey was going to die," Defibaugh said. "She had a degenerative spinal condition. As the nerves in her spine degenerated, she lost feeling in her back and hind legs.
"I knew she would continue to get worse and worse. Finally, my partner and I had her euthanized. She loved car rides, so we took her for one last ride."
Afterward, Defibaugh said, she discovered that "mourning the death of a companion animal is just as emotional and difficult as mourning the death of a human loved one. The feelings are similar."
So last spring, when Adina Silberstein decided to add a free grief support group to the dog-walking, certified canine massage therapy and other holistic services at her Queenie's Pets on Germantown Avenue near Mount Airy Avenue, Defibaugh signed on as lead facilitator.
Like Defibaugh, Silberstein is personally motivated to run the grief group on the third Thursday of every month from 6:45 p.m. to 8 p.m.
A self-described "super obsessed doggie mom," Silberstein saw the need for the grief support group in animal-loving Mount Airy when she had to put her lymphoma-stricken 10-year-old cat, Moxie, to sleep last year.
She took Moxie to the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services in Langhorne, Bucks County.
"They have a comfort room with couches and lots of boxes of tissues," Silberstein said. "You get to be in that room with your pet for as long as you want, until you decide it's time for the euthanasia.
"It's all done so lovingly and supportively," she said. "I got to sit with Moxie in my lap and cry my eyeballs out for four hours straight. I realized I want people who are losing a pet to feel nurtured like that. I want them to feel no shame in crying."
Silberstein recruited her dog-loving mom Marilyn, a career social worker who dealt with death and dying in Philadelphia's major hospitals for 35 years, to co-facilitate the grief support group with Defibaugh .
"Everybody expects people grieving for a loved one to not function very well and to be crying a lot," Marilyn said. "But when someone loses a pet, people say, 'What's the problem? You can replace it.' "
Marilyn, who had to have her ailing 13-year-old beagle, Lucky, put to sleep in June, said some people come to the grief support group because they are struggling with the decision to euthanize their pet.
"If you are making a life-or-death decision about Dad, everybody understands," Marilyn said. "But nobody understands when you're deciding to put Fido down."
The grief group, she said, fully understands anguish over end-of-life decisions.
"Nobody in this group is going to say, 'You're nuts. Get over it,' " Marilyn said. "Telling someone, 'Get over it' is not a good way to get over grief."
Instead, Marilyn said, people mourning the death or impending death of a beloved pet find kindred souls in the group.
"We're all talking about our pets in a loving way," Marilyn said. "We're all crying and we all have our Kleenex. Grieving is grieving."
Information from: The Philadelphia Daily News, http://www.philly.com
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