Grief Retreats For Pet Loss

Led by Jon Terrell, MA

Animal Altar

I've been leading Grief and Loss retreats for over 20 years at Star Dance Ranch in western Massachusetts. Most people come because they are grieving the loss of their husband or wife or child.

But what about pet loss grief?

Over the years I've had requests to attend by people grieving the loss of their animal companion, and I've said no. I didn't want people coping with the death of their cat or dog or other animal to face projections from attendees who had lost a child or husband or wife.

Grief Retreats For Pet Loss
At Star Dance Ranch

But I was wrong. In 2023, I finally said "yes" to those mourning the loss of an animal. The other participants fully got how painful pet loss can be, how devistating, and totally supported those people attending who were grieving the loss of an animal companion.

Their loss is just as real and painful, their struggle with grief and loss just as real.

These participants were totally welcomed into our loving community. At our retreats it doesn't take very long for people to release their judgements of others and move into the experience of unconditional, totally inclusive love. 

Pet loss is often not accepted as real grief. Others (non-pet owners)  may not understand. This can be called disenfranchised grief, a psychological term meaning grief that isn't accepted or validated by others.

One participant struggled with their grief and felt he had to hide it because his pain wasn't accepted or even acknowledged as valid. He started to feel something was wrong with him for grieving so deeply!

I've dedicated a portion of the Star Dance room, where we do our deep emotional healing work, to create an altar for those who have come here for healing. Participants come to tell the story of their beloved animal and honor their animal companions. (See the picture above.)

If you are struggling to come to terms with your dog or cat's passing, contact me (see the form at the bottom of the page) to find out if our Grief and Loss retreats would be a good fit for you. 

We go well beyond talk therapy or support groups, although those interventions can be helpful. For a good resource to find out about those groups, you can reach the website of the Association For Pet Loss and Bereavement here.

The following is an account of my loss, several years ago, of one of the guardian cats at Star Dance.

Honoring Denver

Denver, who lived at Star Dance Ranch

Denver died yesterday. My precious grey princess, only 13 months old.

She was run over, lying in the middle of my street. When I saw her I couldn’t contain myself...I shouted, ran to her, started crying. But there was nothing I could do. No pulse, she was gone. I could see no life in her eyes, in her body. This was my first direct experience with pet loss.

Last night I lit a candle for her. I could see the light of the flame all night as I tried to sleep.

My friend D and I buried her this morning, in one of her favorite places, under a large evergreen bush, by the side fence. I read a few prayers for her, spoke of some of our good times, celebrated our lives together. I cried too, mourning her sudden death.

I’ve visited her gravesite, marked by a big smooth grey rock the color of her fur, several times today, to reflect and grieve To breath, let tears come, and go with my process.

I’ve been leading Grief and Loss retreats for several years. People come from all over, grieving the loss of loved ones, relationships that have ended, and even the loss of one’s own unlived lives.

I’ve come to know the healing power of a loving group to help people move through grief, and the healing power of tears.

Today I have a deeper appreciation of what it is like to lose a pet...a dog, or cat or whatever creature we have loved.

I adored Denver, and she adored me. Whenever I would be near her she’d run to me and rub against me, wanting to be petted, to be loved.

Denver helped me love BIG. That is one of her gifts to me. And today she is giving another gift, which starts in the form of this letter to you. I hear her calling me to write this, and to help those of you who are going through deep grief about the loss of your pet to find me and, if you resonate with it, to come to one of the Grief and Loss Retreats, to focus on your pet loss.

You can find out more about my next retreat and how it may help you cope with your pet loss on this page: Grief and Loss Retreat. There are also some valuable grief resources on this website you may want to look at to help you. Some of these links are below.

Kitten Playing With Yarn

Jon Terrell offers retreats for healing emotional pain several times a year in Massachusetts and other locations. 

For more information or if you have a question, contact him using the form below.

Go to Grief and Loss Retreat

Go From Pet Loss to Healing Emotions

Go to Extreme Grief Page

Go to Handling Grief Page

Go To Grief Stricken Page

Go To Animal Medical Center In New York City

Ask Jon A Question

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Recent Comments

"I sought out Jon's retreat after tragically losing my beloved cat Loki. He was my greatest joy and his loss shook me in ways I never thought possible.

I was unsure what to expect since I had never attended a retreat before, but I found that it was incredibly helpful for me in my healing journey. It was the most difficult, yet most rewarding experience of my life. I met some amazing people who made me feel loved, supported, and understood. I couldn't recommend Star Dance Ranch enough to anyone seeking solace and tranquility in whatever journey they may be on."

Much love, 
Amanda Malek, Albany, NY

"I’m so glad I found Jon's retreat.  He provided a safe space for participants to grieve and whatever they are feeling.  I was somewhat hesitant because my grief was for a pet, not a human.  But Jon and the other participants welcomed me with open arms and caring energy.  It was truly an unforgettable experience and I recommend everyone to try it and trust the process (especially men)."

Kaycee C., Orange County, CA