Our relationship with animals and dealing with their loss

Isn’t it lovely when connection happens? I had a moment like this recently, when I was doing my monthly paper review on BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey with Allison Ferns and the subject of pet funerals came up. Allison was incredulous about the lavish and expensive lengths some people go to when their animals die (admittedly, some of the examples she was looking at were certainly unusual) and we had an interesting conversation about personal reactions to a beloved pet’s death versus what society deems ‘normal’. Later that day, the conversation fresh in my mind, I came across a thread on Facebook about someone’s cat dying. There was a very wise and thoughtful response from a woman named Ollie Neveu who, it seemed, knew a lot about the subject of people’s relationships with animals. Synchronicity! A quick look at her website told me she was a writer, coach, artist and fur mama. Who wouldn’t be intrigued?! So I got in touch and asked her about what she does:

Ollie Neveu talks pets with Creating Ceremony

So Ollie, what does your work involve?

“I help people to partner with their animals, and vice versa. Animals are soulful beings who can help us grow and teach us about unconditional love. It is often through the experience of being loved unconditionally by an animal – as they naturally are inclined to do – that people can learn to love themselves unconditionally and feel themselves to be worthy.

“Animals can also help us to re-establish the bond that connects us to the natural world. For the majority of the time we’ve been on this planet, we’ve lived in connection with nature but most of us have lost that connection now and part of ourselves with it. We see in animals that which we’ve lost in ourselves – that pure, innocent, joyful thing.

“It’s interesting that animals feature heavily in creation myths the world over, and many stories, like Adam and Eve, include the animals still living in Paradise once the humans have disconnected from it.

“I run regular webinars for people to connect deeply with each other and to send love and healing together to injured or ill animals. I also work 1:1 with clients to help them to re-establish the part of themselves that is deeply connected with animals and the natural world.”

How did you get into this work?

“A few years ago, I had a breakdown. Although I had previously been scared of dogs, the only thing that would cheer me up at the time was to watch YouTube videos of Pug dogs. My neighbour got a Pug and I bonded with it and decided I would love a dog in my life full time. Eventually I adopted a rescued greyhound.

“My connection with animals helped me to reconnect to the world. They taught me – and teach others – how to be completely in the present moment. Watch a cat for a while, for example, and you’ll learn how to set boundaries for yourself. We have so much to learn from them.”

Do you have any thoughts or advice for people who have lost a much-loved animal?

“When I was 13, we got a new cat. Our old cat, Taffeta, didn’t get on with the new one and was unhappy. We were unable to rehome her and somehow I was momentarily coerced into agreeing the best idea was to put her to sleep, and so she was. We buried her in the garden and I ran away from the little ceremony we had. I cried bitterly and then pushed it away but carried the guilt and sense of responsibility around for many, many years.

“Nobody coached me through the pain and I couldn’t process it and grieve properly. I believe that the disconnection that we have means we don’t give ourselves the space to process loss, and the irony is that the huge feelings of remorse and responsibility we feel often makes us shut down a further part of ourselves and disconnect even more because we don’t want to feel guilty or believe we’re a bad person.

“Children especially have very strong relationships with animals and teenagers often tell their pets things they wouldn’t say to anyone else. The animal gives them absolute, unconditional love at a time when they are emotionally at sea. The loss of a much-loved pet is one of the first big losses they experience and it can hit them very hard.

“So people who misguidedly tell those who have lost a pet to be ‘more realistic’ or say things like ‘it’s just a cat’ can halt the whole healing process and make the loss much more painful.

“My own experience was that I had dreams for 8 years about my cat who had died, and in the dreams she came back and forgave me. When I spoke about this at an event recently, lots of people came up to me afterwards in tears and said that they’d had similar experiences for years of guilt too.

“My Animal Healing Circles are a safe place for people to process grief for a lost animal. When we honour animals who have passed, we celebrate their life with stories of their old tricks, reflect on our feelings and send a blessing for their transition. This is very healing for people, who feel their pet has been supported and is not alone. It also validates the loss they feel without belittling it.”

What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your experiences with animals?

“That would be what I’ve learned from my experience with Taffeta the cat, and it’s this: an animal will never hold a grudge. They always forgive us, even when they have been treated badly. Animals are unconditionally loving souls who don’t harbour resentment. Imagine if people were like that too?”

You can find out more about Ollie and her work on Facebook or at her website.

If you would like me to create a beautiful ceremony in memorial of your pet, please call me.