When Pets Die

Pets bring immeasurable joy to millions of homes. In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association found that 85 percent of pet owners consider their pet a member of the family.

But when that pet dies, the loss can be devastating. On Wednesday, The Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner shares more on the ways people cope with the death of a pet.

Decades ago, if a pet died, many just buried it in the backyard or flushed it down the toilet and moved on. Now, there is a myriad of ways to mourn, and memorialize the loss of that special family member -- the family pet.

At New York City's Animal Medical Center Hearts Are Tender, raw emotions are laid bare.

All who gathered there have lost a pet. For them, the loss is very real and the grief is a heavy burden.

"She was the best pet I ever had," said support group participant Colette Parisi about her iguana, Baby, who died two weeks ago.

The special counseling session, available to all grieving pet owners, was founded more than 20 years ago by Dr. Susan Cohen.

"In those days, there weren't support groups for everything as there are now," Cohen says. "But it was clear that a lot of people loved their pets and really grieved them, but there was quite a stigma attached. To me, that meant you put everybody in the same room and say, 'See, you're not crazy.'"

At Animal Medical Center Hearts Are Tender, people are allowed to tell their stories uninterrupted.

The group has helped Sara Champion to heal over the three months since the loss of her Siamese cat, Clarissa, while across the table, Elenor Zwyker continues to mourn for her Maltese, Scruffy, who died more than 19 years ago.

"I can't live without him," declared Zwyker.

Scruffy was buried by Zwyker at Hartsdale Cemetery, which, in 1896, became the country's first pet cemetery when a prominent New York veterinarian offered his apple orchard as the final resting place for a friend's dog. Today, more than 70,000 dearly departed pets are buried there.

"[The pets] are not allowed to be buried without a casket or in just a cardboard box or something," says Edward C. Martin Sr., co-director of Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. "We do have simple caskets. They do have linings and pillows and blankets. We try to have something for everybody's needs."

But because the purchase of a burial plot and casket can be costly to some, many pet owners opt for cremation or choose to build memorials on the Internet.

Pet owners can also find support groups online. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement hosts a global chat each week. But it's the human connection that has helped the group of animal lovers turn sorrow into fond remembrance.

"[Baby] was so cute and so tiny, and I watched her grow. I didn't really know how loving they really could be," said pet owner Colette Parisi.