Ceremony offers time to grieve, honor animal companions

A blue collar rests on a framed photograph of a fluffy brown dog.
A pet owner holds a collar and a photo of his dog on his lap during a “Celebration of Life and Remembrance for Our Companion Animals” event in Pullman. Photo Ted S. Warren WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Many people don’t stop to grieve their animals after they pass, so veterinary chaplain Scott Campbell has organized a series of special ceremonies to give owners the opportunity to reflect on their companion animals.

WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine will host the next “Celebration of Life and Remembrance for Our Animal Companions” at 10 a.m. Oct. 21 inside the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center. The free event, which will include live music and refreshments, is open to anyone who has lost an animal companion, either as part of their family or as a part of a veterinary health care team.

“Society often overlooks the depth of grief that we can experience when we lose a non-human family member or a special patient. This collective denial can compound sorrow, leading to what’s known as disenfranchised grief,” Campbell said. “The Celebration of Life and Remembrance ceremonies provide a validating space for individuals and families to process their loss and find an opportunity for healing that can’t always be found otherwise.”

Campbell said in a profession with the stresses of veterinary medicine, it is unfortunate there are not more services to veterinarians and animal owners experiencing pet loss. He plans to continue the celebration of life events with two more in the spring semester.

“I want to give people an opportunity to share what they feel they need to share,” Campbell said.

Dr. Peter Welsh (‘21 DVM), a small animal surgery resident at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, recommends the celebration of life ceremonies to his clients experiencing pet loss — and will attend himself to remember his own dog Driller. 

A faded collar now hanging off the rearview mirror in Welsh’s car is a reminder of all the great memories he had with Driller. That same faded collar had sat in a box in Welsh’s closet for years until he attended the first Celebration of Life ceremony this past summer.

“I had all of Driller’s memories hidden in the closet and I didn’t want to take them out,” Welsh said. “After that experience this summer, I remembered that I need those memories, and I should celebrate those memories, so I decided I’m going to keep her collar in my car.”

Participants will be offered a ribbon on which they can write about their pet and tie it onto a remembrance garland with the other completed ribbons. The completed garland will be hung at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Memorial Garden following the event.

Welsh found the ribbon ceremony to be particularly powerful and got him to remember the many years of unique experiences he’d had with Driller.

“I definitely felt that I grew from this experience,” Welsh said. “I hadn’t realized until that time that I needed to give myself permission for that grief I experienced with my dog and I hadn’t taken the time to really process and think of those emotions after the fact. I left feeling like some degree of stress, or some degree of pain had been resolved.”

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