Sandra’s connection with animals started as a child. She was lucky enough to grow up with animals who taught her many lessons and gave her the gift of unconditional love. It was during her healing from the loss of her own beloved cat “Maz”, that brought her to the place of wanting to help others heal from their own losses. Sandra is a Certified Pet Loss Specialist and Compassion Fatigue Educator who has spent the last 10 years helping both pet parents and those involved in the various aspects of Animal Rescue work deal with the loss of animals. Her passion is to help those working in the Animal Rescue world deal with both their own grief over what they see and also to learn how to make their own self-care a priority. Sandra along with Ellie Freedman formed “PetLoss Partners”. PetLoss Partners was created to provide support and education for both grieving pet parents and Veterinary/Animal Care professionals.
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Sandra’s connection with animals started as a child. She was lucky enough to grow with animals who taught her many lessons and gave her the gift of unconditional love. It was during her healing from the loss of her own beloved cat “Maz” that brought her to the place of wanting to help others heal from their own losses.
Sandra is a Certified Pet Loss Specialist and Compassion Fatigue Educator who has spent the last 10 years helping both pet parents and those involved in various aspects of Animal Rescue work deal with the loss of animals. Her passion is to help those working in the Animal Rescue deal with both their own grief over what they see and also had to learn to make their own self-care a priority.
Sandra, along with Ellie Friedman, formed “Pet Loss Partners”. Pet Loss Partners was created to provide support and education for both grieving pet parents and Veterinary/Animal Care professionals.
Hey, Sandy. Thanks for coming on today. Well, thank you for inviting me. I have been really looking forward to getting a chance to talk to you and share this information with you. Well, thank you. I am looking forward to talking to you as well and hearing your journey and your story. So maybe you can start us off and give us a little bit of background on you. Sure. As I told you, my background started out way different. I never thought I was gonna wind up at this spot. Although I always say that it is my sweet spot. It’s what I always should have been doing. And it’s funny how life takes us down those paths. So I was totally like, Miss Business, Miss Corporate world, for many years. And I have this very special soul kitty, enjoy, called Maz. And he was with me through so much, like the Grad School and the end of a long term relationship.
And then, unfortunately, the loss of my dad and mom, in a four year period. And when I lost him, it just devastated me. And it was back in 2007 and it wasn’t, even in L.A where I was living, there wasn’t a whole lot of support then. I was able to find something and as I began to heal and my backgrounds’ in Psychology. But I go No, I was like, OK, well, it will be in Psychology, but I’ll go in Organizational Psychology because I don’t want to counsel, you know, and that’s all I do.
As I began to heal, I did decide, You know what? This is what I need to do, and I felt like Maz’s paw was kind of pushing me in that direction. So I went back, I got trained and certified as a Pet Loss Specialist, and this is actually my 10th year in doing this work, and it’s really evolved. This started out just doing pet, not just, but doing pet loss support groups and individual sessions. Then I started meeting people in the veterinary world and hearing all they were having to deal with and meeting people that were doing Animal Rescue, and we started board meetings and doing things together and I started learning about Compassion Fatigue, and I wanted to help them. So I went back and I got trained and started doing that. That’s what I do now. That’s what I love. I support pet parents who are either dealing with an elderly, sick, terminally ill pet or have lost a pet. I support people in the Animal Rescue field to, God bless them, for doing the work they do, who just need that emotional support to keep doing that work. Same thing for the people in the veterinary world.
So now when you had that loss, I mean, what kind of resources were there? I mean, how did you get through it yourself and realize that this is a gap that I could be a part of filling? Yeah. And like I said, there was hardly anything out there. And I was Googling. I was talking to people. And I can’t remember how, I think I found Yahoo had, like, this Pet Loss group. But really, it was people just crying together. And I had gone to a grief group when I lost. And so I wanted to find specific tools and tips, so I can heal. And I did find a group. You know, when it’s weird how life takes you in a direction because it was like 2009 and the recession was hitting and I actually lost my job. My big corporate, wonderful job that I thought was going to take me all different types of places and I was like, Well, what do I do? And it was like, Well, this is what I want to do. So really, that’s how it all started.
That’s really fascinating. I love the fact that you said when you have a Psychology degree and your goal wasn’t to counsel people but now you’re kind of finding, as you said, that is your sweet spot. Yeah, and I think it’s funny because a lot of people will say to me, How do you do that? How do you deal with sadness and death and stuff? And for me, watching somebody go from just being broken, whether it be somebody who lost a pet or somebody who’s done rescue for 10 years and is just like, I can’t do this anymore. And being able to take them to a place like, OK, you know, I understand what this is. Here’s how I could put things in place. I know, you know, maybe everybody in the outside of my little inner circle doesn’t get the grief. But there are people who do and that our resources and there are tips and things, that I can begin to heal. So when you see somebody like they say, go from being broken to healed, it’s so worth it. No. Plus, I’m dealing with pet people and animal people, and it’s who I am to my heart, so that makes it feel good.
So now how does this work? Is this, people call you? I mean, are you doing, you know, audio sessions, video sessions, I mean, is it like a regular counseling thing? Or is there like a set program that you go through? Yeah. And so no, you know, because everybody goes through this grief differently. You’ll never find two people, even like two people in the same house, are not gonna grieve the same pet in the same way because they have different grief histories. They have different personalities. So what I do is I do have a couple of support groups that I do. I’m in the New Jersey area. Then I see people individually in person. But I also do telephone sessions and Skype sessions, then the same thing for people working in the veterinary field, Animal Rescue. Usually, they’ll find out about me from someone or see the website or see something when you will read something I was in or see something I’ve done and then they’ll contact me. But it’s always even if I’m not right there, we could find a way to connect. Yeah, and I’m glad you mentioned the website because I really love the fact that you’ve got some resources and things out there.
And one of the things that struck me was Anticipatory Bereavement. I didn’t really think about it, but particularly with the pets that we’ve had over the years, knowing when they’re coming to the end and really struggling with making that decision right and saying it’s, you know, their quality of life is not there and it’s time. What a stressful time that was. And I didn’t really even have a name for it. Yeah, and that’s the thing that most people don’t realize, and what happens, unfortunately, is at the end, after their pet passes, it’s like this should have, could have, the guilt, the this and the that.. And I always tell people so for instance, one of the things is it’s just like when we do a will. Nobody wants to do it. Nobody wants to talk about it. But if you take the time and make some decisions ahead of time, so if you’re dealing with a pet with a terminal illness, you know, when you know they may have, like three months, six months left, think about, Do I wanna a vet to come to my home so that my other pets could say goodbye? And maybe they hate going to the vet, so I don’t want it done there. Or do I not want that memory in the house and do I want, you know, to take it to the vet because they’re really comfortable there. What about, Do I want to bury them? Do I want to cremate them? And then once you have these decisions and they’re kind of ugly, hard decisions, but then you write it down and kind of put it away.
And then the whole thing is, What do I do to make this time count? You know, and you’ve probably seen it. People making videos of their pets bucket list, where they take them to McDonald’s, when they take them on a ride to the beach. And thinking about and realizing, you know, I always tell people that there’s some, trust me, when you lose your pet, there’s gonna be greif, and there’s gonna be enough time for grief. But this is the time. Don’t lose today. Make sure and maybe your pet, you know, your dog can’t go on that two-mile run that you used to do every day. Maybe he can only go down the block, but take him down that block. Maybe he can’t really walk a whole lot, so you take him for a car ride around the block. Take special pictures, do a special video and just sit and talk to them and let them know and really have somebody by your side. Don’t do this alone, it’s so hard. So it’s about maybe having a friend who can go with, I always recommend, if you’ve got to go to the vet, take somebody with you because you’re so emotional. A lot of times you’re not gonna hear things you need to hear. So take somebody with you, write down your questions ahead of time and take out the piece of paper and make sure you have all your questions answered. But really more than anything, make sure and it’s hard because our animals are experts at it. They don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday or next week. They stay in the moment, and that’s really the time is right then. the only Anticipatory Bereavement that’s the primacy in the moment. And make sure every day counts by, even if it’s just sitting there petting them, make sure it counts. Yeah, so that’s like we get stressed out and we become irritated and, you know, less patient in that time, that you really want to spend really just enjoying them and being in the moment, they don’t know what’s coming. You know it’s coming, and that’s, right, we’re anticipating what’s gonna happen.
And then after, how do you counsel people? How do you coach people to deal with that after, right? Because now it’s little things that you see throughout the house, where they used to sit next to you on the couch or that were, you know, their favorite time of day, their favorite toy. Should we just try and remove every evidence that they existed? I get asked that a lot, that particular thing, What do I do? And I always tell people, I have what I call the 90-day rule. And it doesn’t have to be exactly 90 days, but no big decisions in the first, you know, because we’re so emotional and our tendency is like, I worked too much. So I’m quitting my job because I’ll never do that again. Or I hate this apartment. This is what it was with a guy who or I’m in an unhappy marriage, now is the time I’m gonna get that divorce. We like, we’re going to stop. You know, I can’t look at this stuff, I need to get rid of it. And so many times, people have thrown stuff out or donated it. And then a month later, two months later, when they want that something to hold onto, they can’t. So I always tell people if you can’t have it out, put it in a bag, and put it in your garage or your basement or your closet. And then the more you heal, you may find, You know what? I could get rid of this toy, I want this one. I want this collar, but I don’t want this blanket. You know, and the same thing, a lot of people can’t move things right then. It’s like they don’t want to move the water bowl or the feed bowl, and it’s okay if you need to keep it there. I had Maz’s bowl out, I think for almost two months with a little bit of his food in it, you know, people might have thought it was gross. That’s okay. I needed it, you know, it’s what I needed, you know, and there is no right or wrong in any of this. It’s really what you need to begin to work through.
Yeah, I really love that. The fact that you’re individualizing it because I know with our pets, my wife and I both grieve very differently, right? And now it’s trying to recognize that each person does have their journey and finding their peace with it. And I love the fact that you acknowledge that and give people that permission to take the time that they need and the approach that they need. There’s no rush. There’s nothing that you need to decide right away. No, but there’s no timeline. Some people may find, geez, it’s like six months, and I’m really still hurting. That’s okay. Are you taking baby steps toward healing? If you’re still in bed and you haven’t gone to work and that’s a concern. But if you’re going to a group, if you’re seeing a counselor, you’re reading books. You’re maybe doing some volunteer work. If you’re doing something to baby steps, that’s what’s important. And it’s not about judging anybody else’s timeline, just knowing as long as you’re taking baby steps and realizing that you don’t have to go through this alone. Back in 2007, like I said, there was hardly anything out there. Now it’s still not what it should be. But there is, you know, get on Google and Google Pet Loss Support group. You know, or Pet Grief, and you could almost always find some.
Now I noticed the other thing that you said you did is you help people that are in the Animal Rescue or Veterinary profession with Compassion Fatigue. So tell us a little bit about how that is different than what you do? Yeah, the thing to realize, and I think that whether you are an Animal Rescue or Veterinary is to realize that Compassion Fatigue, it’s almost like people think, Great, there may be something wrong with me. But, you know, Compassion Fatigue really is the normal consequence of doing this work. You’re seeing really traumatic things. You’re seeing people who are sad, animals who are hurt. I mean, there’s a lot of beauty in it, when we are able to save the life of an animal, that we didn’t think we’d be able to save. That’s the really nice and good part.
But as you know, there’s some hard parts to all of this. And part of it is just acknowledging, Okay, there’s this hard part and it’s not a disease. It’s part of doing this work. So then it’s like, Well, what do I do? How can I at least manage it? You know, I used to say, combat it. I don’t think you could combat it. I think you could manage it and keep it to a certain level that you can still enjoy the work you’re doing. And the biggest way is about self care. You know, it’s so true. It’s like you can’t pour from an empty cup. You got to have that, you know, when you’re on any airplane, what did they tell you? Put your mask on yourself first, before you help somebody else. We’ve got to take care of ourselves before we can help anybody else. You can’t help somebody else if you’re incapacitated, mentally or physically, right? And focus on you and take care of yourself and realize that, again, that it’s a normal part of what we do in the passion cause that we found, right.
So what’s your goal with what you’re doing? Where do you take the business? You know, where do you want to see this go? There’s a few different areas, you know. So I started out learning how to be a counselor, and now I have an online course for people who are interested. Whether it be just for self-growth or they want to go out to help people. Either pet parents or people in the animal world, veterinary world. So we’re doing that. We’re hoping to be able to do an online workgroup and some online webinars. I do a lot of speaking at different conferences and really just getting the word out there, by doing this podcast. And I do individual sessions with both people and Animal Rescue and Veterinary, for a chance to help them develop their own self-care plan. Which is really important because I could tell you, Hey, Chris, yeah, you may be dealing with Compassion Fatigue, but this is what I want you to do. I want you to, twice a week, I want you to do yoga and twice a week to do meditation. And you could, like, start doing yoga. Say, I really hate this isn’t helping me at all. That’s not what it’s about. It’s really about finding the things that work for you. Like me. I’m a coffee drinker. You might see my shirt, you know. So for me, even when I’m having a hard day, I’ll stop at a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts and get my favorite Latte, and that is a little bit of a self-soothe, really. My goal is to help people be able to continue to do the work that means a lot to them and stay in the field. Because what happens is that helps more animals, when you’re able to do that. Again, it’s taking care of yourself so that you can take care of us. Yeah.
I think one of the things I know I struggle with and others do as well is letting others know, like the work that we do, is real work. It’s hard work, right? So I care for animals. And as you said, you see the dark side sometimes of humanity and the way that they treat animals and trying to explain that to people is hard. People go, That’s great! Good for you. You know you help animals, right? And they don’t really understand what goes into it. So I struggle oftentimes to communicate to people what it is that I actually do. And so sometimes what I tell people first of all and it’s good to manage Compassion Fatigue is to have a Wow list. Every week you put up this new Wow list. And the Wow list is what really good things happened that week? Or why did I enjoy doing the work that I did? And so part of it is sharing that but part of it too can be sharing a hard story of something you had a go through. But ending it with a good, hopefully, outcome or being around, and this is another thing that I will say, is really being careful around who we could talk too and who we can’t. Because the bottom line is there are people who are just never gonna get it, you know? I mean, and I have a friend of mine who’s a vet tech, and she is a lot of surgeries and they work at a, she works a senior practice, so sometimes there are some bad outcomes. And she’ll tell people, I’m a vet tech and they’re like, Oh, you get to walk puppies all day. No, not quite. But okay.
And it can be educational, even say, if you find a good article, find a couple of good articles that explain things and say, Hey, I just read this fascinating article. You may want to check it out. It really gives you a better idea of what I do. Or a story that’s in the news. If you saw something on the news and you can relate, tell that person say, Hey, did you hear that story? That’s kind of what I have to go through. I like that. It’s helping them to relate to stuff that they might see because, you know, one of the things I have done for years is most people I talked to, I will say, there’s two degrees of separation. Everybody I talked to either has adopted an animal from a rescue shelter or they know somebody that has. And the first question I always ask them is, Do you know how that animal got there? And they usually look at me and they go, No, I never really thought about it. And then that’s when I can kind of educate them on kind of the plate of animals and how far we’ve come here in the US. But how far we still have a long way to go.
So I’m just curious and all this when you look back on your career and how you got here. Is this how you thought things would turn out? Not at all. And it’s funny, cause I always told people I make a lot less money than I used, but I am so fulfilled. Like when I get up and there are some hard days. Everybody has those hard moments. But I know, and for me I’m not a religious person or a spiritual person, and I do believe Maz guided. I always say, He was my greatest teacher when he was here on this earth. He was just amazing. I used to call him my Zen King, because he was so calm and he was there for me, you know? And now I feel like he’s taught me so much. And allowed me to do so much, and I think that’s really from me. What I’ve learned is like finding your passion. Whatever it is, doesn’t have to be anything related to animals, if that’s not your thing. But find one thing that you’re passionate about and do it, you know, and that will bring you more joy, more satisfaction. And I think for me, that’s what it’s about. And I love animals. You know, I have a bond with animals. I wanted to be a vet, but my mom used to say, Sandy, like you passed out when you see blood. So I realized Okay, that’s not gonna work, but I want to do something with animals.
So even before any of this, I was doing a lot of volunteering in different rescues and shelters, and now you know, I get to help people help, and I still do some volunteering, but I really believe it’s like finding your passion and just don’t listen to what other people say. Listen to what you know inside. Yeah, I love that Sandy and certainly we’ll encourage people to go to petlosspartners.com so they can learn more about you. And as I mentioned, you’ve got some great resources and just kind of thought-provoking things out there, right, because this is a very real need, both when pets are needing to go to the Rainbow Bridge and you know, when people in the industry are struggling. So I appreciate you, and the fact that you’re providing this service.
Is there anything else, Sandy that you would like to mention today before we wrap things up? Yeah, I just want to let people know again, whether you’re a pet parent anticipating a loss, have gone through loss or whether you’re doing the Animal Rescue work or veterinary work. Please, please, please know that you don’t have to go through this alone, that other people get it, that there’s support out there, and that you’re special. I really think, I always say we’re a different breed of people because we care. You know, and it’s worth that and get the help so that you can continue to do it because it makes a big difference. I think that’s very well, said Sandy. And I’m really glad that you came on the program today to talk with us. Well, thanks, Chris. I appreciate the time to share the message.
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