"This is a place where your grief will be shared and honoured in a way it should be,” Priya says.

This Bluru woman started a forum for pet lovers to mourn the loss of their furry friends
Features Saturday, November 05, 2016 - 18:39

“A lot of things can come from pain”

It has been four years since Priya Chetty Rajagopal’s spaniel Calamity Jane, better known as CJ, passed away. 

But even now, CJ’s memories and the pain of losing her can “completely crumble” Priya, a Bengaluru-based CXO search consultant. 

In a touching post on Facebook, Priya later wrote,

“I struggled with anger, an open wound, the racking emptiness of loss, and the pain that her death and its effect were neither legitimate nor validated by society. They weren’t family, just an extension, a household object, a prop. You owned them, and when they were used up, you moved on or if a pet was still needed, you got a replacement of your property. CJ was the love of my life. Both my husband’s and mine.” 

Her death in the summer of 2012 at the age of 14, left behind a void that, the Rajagopal family would later realise, was almost impossible to fill. 

What was perhaps even more traumatic for them, was that their grief, though acute, was not validated by society because CJ to them was just a “dog”.

So in September, Priya started a support group called "Goodbye Tails" to offer a safe space for people to mourn their pets without being judged. 

"This is a place where your grief will be shared and honoured in a way it should be,” she says. 

The episode made her realise two very critical things. 

Firstly, that she was going through “disenfranchised grief”, i.e. grief that is not socially acknowledged or supported. "You didn't have the right to grieve," she says. 

Secondly, she found it impossible to communicate her heartache and the huge sense of loss clawing inside her. "Nobody understood it. People who I cared for a lot didn't understand. If you had a parent, friend or sibling who had passed away, people would get it.”

But in her case, people would often simply say "Oh, your dog died", and tell her to "move on".

"In that statement, 14 years of non-judgmental love just disappeared," Priya states. 

But, Priya says she's forgiven them all. "After all, I was one of them before.” (CJ was her first pet.)

"Goodbye Tails" has over 120 members at present and Priya says she does not want too many people to join the group. "I want pets to live long and everybody to be happy."

Of the several posts on the forum, one is of Pankaj Agarwal. On his “darling son” Theo’s death anniversary, he writes, “Some days are even more harder than the others. It's a year today my darling son Theo, but the pain is as fresh as it was a year ago. Our tears haven't dried up We miss you a lot beta. (sic)”

Many including Priya wrote back to him- despite not knowing each other- either expressing sympathy or sharing personal stories. 

"When people reach out, it makes a difference," she says. 

Besides lending an understanding shoulder during such sorrowful times, Priya also wanted the group to be a place from where people could get practical help. 

Like what would people do if their pet passed away in the middle of the night or how would they find cremation services for animals. 

After CJ's death, Priya has also set up the CJ Memorial Community Guardian Award to acknowledge people who help less fortunate dogs. Shortly after, the Cubbon Park Canines (CPC) group, which now has over 5,000 members, came up. 

A close-knit community of dog lovers, CPC has been able to provide both solace and comfort to many of its members. 

When a woman lost her beagle, members from the community organised a candle light memorial. Or when another lady's Dalmatian died, she started coming to Cubbon Park, where she "found her own way of grieving" by drawing comfort from the dogs at the park. And how another couple got help from a complete stranger on the group when they couldn’t find a boarding for their dog and had to urgently go out of town.

"The kindness of strangers… This group has a heart," she proudly says. 

While CJ continues to live through the award and the groups started by Priya, the latter says she is still “not that far away from grieving”.

“Nobody tells you how bad it is going to be. But a lot of things can come from pain."

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.