SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – The isolation of the pandemic has given rise to a new breed of counselors for people mourning the loss of their beloved pets.
 
Bernadette Grimes felt unspeakable pain when her 13-year-old pet, Gretal, died.
 
“Gretal followed me around everywhere. Gretal had to sit on my lap. If I sat down, she had to be on top of my lap,” Grimes said of her dog. “Sometimes the grief is so overwhelming, it feels like your heart’s going to break in two.”
 
Grimes has found comfort in a grief group for people who’ve lost their pets.
 
The group meets over live videoconferencing once a week for about an hour.
 
“I look forward to being able to be me, and to say, ‘I’m really hurting,’ and everyone else is, too,” said Grimes.
 
Support for grieving pet owners is growing especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Kevin Ringstaff has led weekly bereavement sessions for four years from his San Francisco home. Participants join from around the country and world.
 
“We can’t go out and get hugs from our friends and family,” he said. “Some of my clients, the only thing they have or had in their whole house was their pets and their pets died.”
 
Ringstaff is a certified pet grief counselor through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement.
 
But he is also part of a rare breed – one of a few dozen trained worldwide as a pet chaplain. He performs pet memorials.
 
“People are like, ‘Oh, that’s a thing? I never knew,'” Ringstaff said. “Pet loss is a very disenfranchised grief. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a dog,’ or ‘Just go get another one,’ or something like that. And people need to be finally heard and recognize, that ‘Yes, this hurts, this hurts a lot.'”
 
Ringstaff got his training from PetChaplain.com.
 
It offers a free eight-week online course through the Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education. The class teaches how to give emotional and spiritual care to those who have lost their animals.

The Pet Chaplain training program is so new, its founders in North Carolina say it’s not certified or licensed, yet. But they’re working on getting their course approved so that it counts as continuing education for veterinary medicine.
 
For Ringstaff, he led Carrie Whitney-Jackson’s online memorial in June for her 9-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, ‘Triple.’
 
Nearly two dozen participants shared stories, snapshots, and support for Whitney-Jackson, who preferred the virtual gathering to an in-person service.
 
“I felt more present, I was in my home, I was able to talk to people, everyone could make it,” she reflected.

Triple’s hour-and-a-half memorial cost $150 and Ringstaff even offers to incorporate your religion into the service.
 
His once-a-week counseling sessions add up to almost $500 for eight weeks.
 
For these grieving pet owners, the compassion and care are worth it, as they make new friends, while they process the pain of losing an old one.

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