June 10, 2010

SAPPY group deals with love and loss of animal friends

By Aimee Villalobos - Staff writer/Northwest Weekly

Julie Wiley will never forget her long-haired Chihuahua, Sappy, who passed away in 2003.

“It doesn't get any easier,” she said. “You love all the pets you have in your life, but with Sappy I really bonded with him through a lot, and he was the first being that I truly loved that I lost.”

After their dog's death, said Wiley, she and her husband were devastated and found themselves alone in their sadness.

“We felt like there was not a place to grieve, especially for a pet,” she said.

She decided to take action, and seven years later the S.A.P.P.Y. Pet Loss & Grief Support Group of San Antonio still meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at the English Tea Shoppe on Bandera Road. The Christian-based support group, Wiley says, pays honor to her “Sappy Wappy” with its acronym, which stands for Someone is Always Praying for Pets and You.

Wiley said many first-timers come to the group with a lot of questions.

“Is it normal that I'm grieving my pet more than, say, mom or dad?” she said. “You leave home, you grow up and start a new life and they (pets) are so much a part of your routine and life that it's okay. It's just the kind of love you had for your pet.”

Wiley said the number of members varies from month to month, but all newcomers receive a packet that includes a candle, grief and loss information as well as a rainbow ornament with the Rainbow Bridge poem, an ode to pets' place in heaven.

Wiley said many struggle with the idea of where their pets end up, something she has been through firsthand.

“I clung to my Bible and searched and asked and wrote a lot of theologians, and I believe they (pets) will see us in heaven,” she said.

Frank and Maureen Ballard have been coming to the group since 2005 when they lost Frieda, a terrier mix.

“I said, ‘We're gonna need some professional help,' Maureen Ballard said. “I burst into tears every few minutes.”

Frank Ballard said he was glad a group like this existed for him and his wife.

“Most people don't understand, and I'm thankful for this group,” he said. “How do you replace a family member? That's the way I look at it.”

Members are encouraged to share their stories and work through the grieving process together.

“The road to healing is easier if you talk about it,” Wiley said. “We're made to support one another.”

Carole Fink lost her dog Junior in 2006 and has attended meetings ever since.

“I said, ‘She's (Julie Wiley) like an angel' because nobody cares, and people think you're silly to cry over a little old dog, but she understood,” she said.

Fink said it has been a lengthy process, but she has found comfort in the group.

“Junior was like my best friend. We went everywhere together,” she said. “He was so deep in my heart. It's been three long years, but I have a new puppy.”

Wiley said people are taking a step towards healing every time they come to a meeting because they are addressing their grief.

“It's a loss. A loss is a loss,” she said. “When you lose your job, you grieve.”

Wiley said there is no timetable to healing, but it does happen.

“I'm a testament to say those million pieces (of your heart) that are crushed heal,” she said.

For more information on the S.A.P.P.Y. Pet Loss & Grief Support Group, visit http://sappypetlosssupportgroup.blogspot.com.