Enid Traisman finds joy where some find only sorrow. As director of the Pet Loss Support Program at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, she’s learned the importance of belonging to a group and that grief shared is grief diminished. She knows bereavement is not species specific, and people who lose a beloved animal deserve support.
“I’ve always been an animal lover, but I didn’t want to be a veterinarian,” says Enid, who grew up near Chicago and came to Portland to attend graduate school. “For undergraduate I did Human Development and Family Life, and I got my master’s in social work. My field placement in graduate school was working in a neo-natal intensive care unit. I saw the importance of dealing directly with grief. People would not only get back to their previous level of functioning, but they’d grow.”
Enid read about a pet loss support group in New York and wanted to start one here. “So often I heard people say, ‘It’s just an animal,’ or ‘Get a new one’ and knew that wasn’t accurate,” she says. “I started this group in 1986; it’s the third oldest in the country. The free Pet Loss Support Program is a gift from DoveLewis to the community.”
Enid facilitates four drop-in groups each month, maintains a 24-hour message line and often has speaking engagements. An accomplished artist, she runs regular free memorial art workshops where she provides materials. Here, clients make boxes, candles, art glass, paperweights, jewelry and other items, often including a photograph of their pet. “Research shows that art and healing come from the same source,” Enid says. “People who participate in artistic activities have measurable physiological results such as reducing stress, easing pain and improving the immune system. Creating art uses the emotional and intuitive aspects of the person, which facilitates a healthy grieving process. It gives a language to emotions.”
Enid’s Pet Loss Support Group attracts men and women of all ages, married and single, with and without children. All have experienced or are anticipating the death of a pet, usually a cat or dog, although there have been several horse people and some who lost a bunny, bird or other animal. “Some people come once or twice, and it validates that they are grieving for a good reason,” Enid says. “Others come every month for a year. It helps them move forward and get back to a place where they are feeling normal. Sometimes people who haven’t been to a group in six months will pop in to show the new addition to their family.”
Enid’s family consists of her husband, two children, three dogs and two cats. Her background and devotion to Judaism is apparent in her Etsy shop (etsy.com/shop/enidtraisman), which include mezuzahs created from the glass shattered at Jewish weddings as well as wonderful, whimsical stained glass objects that celebrate the human-animal bond. “It’s about all the ways animals soothe us, help us stay grounded and bring us joy,” Enid says. “It’s an honor to work with the cream of the crop of animal lovers, the people who understand the bond. Sometimes people ask how I can work with sad people all the time. The fact is, as bad as their situations are, it doesn’t make me sad. I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel before they do, that they’ll get through this and will be even deeper people because of it. The beauty is, most animal lovers who work through their grief have a fertile heart and can love again.”
Free pet loss support groups are available onsite four times a month. Visit dovelewis.org/community-services/grief-support for the latest times. Free memorial art workshops are held onsite the second Sunday of each month from 3 to 4:30 pm.