LOS ANGELES (KABC) --Pets. They're our companions, our friends, part of the family. We take care of them, and they give us unconditional love right back.
But what happens when we have to say goodbye? I recently went through the grieving process when I lost my beloved dog, Saint, and I wanted to help others through the process, too. I spoke to some experts who have advice for handling such a devastating loss.
For many, the grief is the same as losing a member of our family. It can be just as difficult and heartbreaking to get through, yet there's not always the same level of support, and that can make things harder.
"Commonly asked questions: 'Aren't you over it yet?' Or 'Well, you have other dogs, what does that matter?'" said Miriam Kahn, who recently lost her beloved dog, Chester. "I hate to play favorites, and I love all my dogs, but I was very, very bonded."
Sandra Grossman, a therapist with the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), says there is help out there for the grieving process.
"They have free six online pet loss chat rooms a week," said Grossman.
So what's her advice to help you move through the emotional process?
"It's OK to grieve. There's no timeline. You get through this one, you get through this," she said.
Grossman also offers perspective when friends and family members don't quite understand the loss of a loved pet.
"Accept them and don't judge them where they're at. Allow them to get through the grief. Don't go out there and get them a new pet. Don't tell them to get a new pet. Don't tell them, 'Well, it's just a dog,'" said Grossman.
The length of time for mourning is different for everyone. It's a highly personal and individual experience. Some may find that grief comes in stages, while others may experience it in waves.
Whatever the case, experts say intense grief over a pet is natural and normal.
But one of the biggest questions people face: When is it time to open your heart to another loving animal?
"When you're able to heal, then you find, 'Yes, I may be able to love again,'" said Grossman.
For me, after the loss of my beloved Saint, it came when I realized how empty my house was without him. I started my search of the shelters, not sure if I was ready. I have now opened my heart up to a wonderful dog who needed someone as well.
If you are going through the loss of a pet and are searching for support, visit the website for the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement at www.aplb.org. You can also download a copy of the Coping Strategies handout at www.petlosspartners.com.