Loveland Reporter-Herald

Pet loss counselor Leigh Ann Gerk works to help grieving pet owners

- By Austin Fleskes afleskes@prairiemou­

For many, losing a pet can be a deeply sad life event; Leigh Ann Gerk, a certified pet loss and grief companioni­ng counselor works hard to help others through that difficult journey.

Gerk, who has been working in counseling for more than 10 years according to her website, started Mourning to Light Pet Loss in 2019, a practice providing individual and family counseling for anyone grieving the loss of a pet. She offers three free pet loss support groups in northern Colorado and is hoping to branch out and offer more.

During these sessions, Gerk said, she invites the grieving to share stories of their lost pet to begin working through their grief.

“That is what is really healing (sharing) a story,” she said, adding that she will also go on to give them tips and tricks on how to handle the difficulti­es going forward.

She has also carried this desire to help into a children’s book titled “Dear Brave Friend,” an illustrate­d story meant to help children understand the loss of their pet. Gerk’s book went on to win first-place in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

But Gerk doesn’t do it alone, having her 13-year-old Pomeranian Gracie sit in on sessions where the participan­t or participan­ts are comfortabl­e with it.

She said Gracie loves people, sitting at the front door when people arrive for a session. When the session starts, Gerk said the little 9-pound dog knows who needs a little extra pet attention as they speak, snuggling up to them so they can pet her. “She’s a natural,” Gerk said.

She said that despite the emotional weight of the discussion­s she has with clients, it is incredibly rewarding to see people share stories of unconditio­nal love and help them move forward.

“If I can help them, my heart is good,” she said. “They are going to be sad no matter what (but) if I can ease that, I’ve done my job.”

I wanted to become a counselor because I love helping and supporting people, and I was fascinated with the field of psychology. My friends and family had always told me I was a good listener and they felt comfortabl­e being honest and vulnerable with me. I loved the idea of connecting with people on a real level and offering support, encouragem­ent, and hope when they felt hopeless.

It wasn’t until I had to say goodbye to my heart-dog, Teddy, that I knew which direction I wanted to take my counseling. I was completely devastated after losing Teddy. The silence I felt in my home was deafening. I was lonely for my constant companion and loyal friend. I missed going on walks together, I missed the happy greeting I received when I got home and I missed sharing my soul with him. I needed to talk to someone who understood the human/animal bond and who could also validate and support me. During this time, I realized the depth of grief I was feeling was probably being felt by other pet parents, too. That’s when I knew what I had to do. My first free pet loss support group was sponsored by Home to Heaven, the at-home euthanasia service I used to help Teddy pass peacefully. I now have three free pet loss support groups in northern Colorado and have establishe­d my business called Mourning to Light Pet Loss.

What made you want to take your work in pet loss counseling and transfer it into a children’s book?

Having grown up on a farm, I bring memories and experience­s of loving and losing many animals. I vividly remember being a sad little girl when one of my pets died. My inspiratio­n for writing “Dear Brave Friend” (DBF) came from many conversati­ons I’ve had with parents asking how to talk to their children about pet loss, which is often a child’s first significan­t loss. DBF offers an opportunit­y for children to learn how to grieve in a healthy manner. I wanted to write a story that is relatable to children while also providing opportunit­ies for parents to discuss this tender but important topic.

How do you cope with the emotional weight of your job?

I hear many sad and heartbreak­ing stories, and it is common for me to have tears right along with my clients. But I also hear beautiful stories about the remarkable relationsh­ip my clients have had with their pets and ways they honor them when they are gone. People need to share their story, say their pet’s name out loud and know that they will be okay in this “new normal.” Helping grieving pet families is where my heart lies. I know when I need a burst of happy times and happy stories, and I will take a few days off to make that happen.

What is the benefit for people to engage in pet loss counseling?

Pet loss counseling is beneficial because it gives grieving pet parents an opportunit­y to share their story and their sadness with someone who understand­s the human/animal bond. After losing a beloved pet, finding support from family and friends who don’t understand this special bond can be difficult. Individual counseling and pet loss support groups offer a safe place among others who understand and appreciate the deep grief and love associated with the loss of a dear pet.

Leigh Ann Gerk

Age: 60

Time in area: Born and raised in Loveland (to) parents Elmer and Bernice Frank

More informatio­n on Mourning to Light can be found at mourningto­lightpetlo­

 ?? JENNY SPARKS — LOVELAND REPORTER-HERALD ?? Leigh Ann Gerk holds her dog, Gracie, Friday at her Loveland home. Gerk is the founder of Mounring to Light Pet Loss, a pet grief and counseling service in Loveland.
JENNY SPARKS — LOVELAND REPORTER-HERALD Leigh Ann Gerk holds her dog, Gracie, Friday at her Loveland home. Gerk is the founder of Mounring to Light Pet Loss, a pet grief and counseling service in Loveland.

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