A group of animal lovers have come together to support one another in a time of grief.
“I’ve always loved animals,” said Michelle Ainsworth, founder of the Muskoka Pet Loss Support Group. “I’ve always connected with animals on a really deep level, they’re my family not just a pet.”
Ainsworth lost her dog, Sookie, earlier this year in a tragic accident.
“On my fortieth birthday, I got home from work and was on the phone with my mom and I was distracted, opened the front door and my dog Sookie, who was about three-years old, ran out—normally we would put her on a leash—but she ran out and she ran onto the road and got hit by a car. It was extremely traumatic. I sought out some support.”
Ainsworth quickly learned that there are limited support resources available for people grieving the loss of a pet, whether they passed away or ran away and there was no closure.
“I looked to see if there was anything in our area and there was nothing,” said Ainsworth. “I started speaking to some other people about my experience and they had similar experiences, not necessarily with their dog getting hit by a car, but with their pet dying and feeling alone and isolated. In our society, sometimes people can be quite judgmental when it comes to pets. For example, if I share now, it’s been six months, about how devastated I still am some people might say, ‘Oh it’s just a dog, get over it.’ The thing is pets are not just dogs to many, many people.”
Ainsworth said she has done a lot of research on pet loss since losing Sookie.
“Research shows a pet loss can be just as traumatic and significant for somebody as a loss of a human in their life,” she said. “I was a bit shocked at the fact there was very limited support for people going through this in our surrounding area.”
Ainsworth reached out to Billy Mitchell, of Mitchell Funeral Homes, to see if the business would be open to partnering and hosting the space for the support group’s monthly meeting.
“He was really supportive and I believe he recently lost a pet and had the same experience as me, in terms of the grief,” she said.
Ainsworth also founded Muskoka Animal Rescue but hasn’t been involved for several years due to starting a family and her career. She also has a diploma in animal care from Georgian College and has worked in social services for 20 years.
She sought a qualified facilitator to run the group, as she didn’t think she was personally in the right head space to do it herself.
“I did some outreach and was able to find Marcy Hill, who is phenomenal. She works at The Door [Youth Centre] and she was on board to help out,” said Ainsworth. “The goal of it is just to connect with other people who have experienced pet loss and let people know they’re not alone. We can also provide links and resources. It’s an opportunity for people to get together and share their experiences in a non-judgmental setting.”
When Ainsworth had reached out to an Ontario-wide pet loss support group, she was told someone would call her back. No call came, she tried calling back and again no returned call.
“I never want anyone to experience what I experienced when I reached out to get support from a support group,” she said. “I understand these things are all run by volunteers and perhaps maybe something happened on their end. But I know what it felt like to feel isolated and alone and now I don’t because the amount of people that have reached out to me since starting this group as been really great.”
The group is open to anyone in the surrounding area looking for support with their grief. The group will meet on Nov. 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mitchell Funeral Home, 15 High St., Huntsville, and will continue to meet there on the second Monday of every month.
There is also a private Facebook group that can be found by searching “Muskoka Pet Loss Support Group.”
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!