Anyone who's ever loved and lost a cherished animal knows the death of a pet can be devastating.
Louise Kaplanski, an Overland Park psychologist who specializes in pet bereavement, realizes it can be a difficult experience for people.
"What I hear and what I can relate to the most is the depth of attachment and the companionship people feel toward pets," Kaplanski said. "You can take it for granted sometimes.
"Your cat or dog is waiting by the door when you come home. Then one day, after 10 or 15 years, it's not there. When that is suddenly gone, it's a terrible thing, and it takes a long time to get over it."
But many people don't have close bonds to animals, so it's often hard for grieving pet lovers to find sympathy for their loss, she said.
"This is something that people probably don't talk about very much, because not everybody understands how attached you can get to an animal," said Kaplanski, a self-defined animal lover who has two cats, Hannah and Sweet Pea. "There's kind of a lack of understanding of what that loss entails and how deep it can go."
Kaplanski tells clients who have lost a pet that there's no reason to feel guilty about their emotions.
"It's OK to feel how you feel, to grieve," she said. "I tell them that it is a loss, just like losing any other member of their family."
Nancy and Gary Piper are in the business of helping people say goodbye to beloved pets.
They own Rolling Acres Memorial Gardens for Pets, a 12-acre pet cemetery about eight miles south of Kansas City International Airport. About 3,500 pets are buried there.
Rolling Acres is just like a mortuary for humans. The Pipers offer a range of funeral services, plus a pet grief support group that meets from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month.
Nancy Piper, a certified grief recovery specialist, leads the group, which is free and open to anyone who wants to attend.
"We deal with broken hearts here, people who have had that attachment to their pet that other people don't understand." she said. "These little furry children get wrapped up in our hearts and in our lives.
"Part of grief recovery is to get to the point where you can start laughing and smiling about the memories of your pet, rather than crying. But you have to feel in order to heal."