The shape bereavement takes is unique to each person experiencing it. It depends greatly on who (or what) you lost and how you lost them. It cuts deeper and can be more difficult to process when a death is sudden, when someone takes their own life, or when you lose a child or the person (or animal) you love most in the world. Some losses leave wounds so deep it’s hard to imagine they will ever heal.

Still, even in the most shattering circumstances, we can reorient ourselves toward joy by facing and dealing with the pain. For many, friends and family help. Others rely on trained therapists to guide them towards a place of peace and acceptance. And those of us with companion animals may find their unwavering support and comfort to be a safe haven. Here are two stories of animals who helped their people navigate grief.

Kylie & Liza

Kylie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at the age of 12. She had always wished for a kitten, and as she battled cancer, her parents granted her wish. They adopted a tiny kitten, and Kylie named her Liza.

“Liza curled up against Kylie’s body and wrapped her paw around her arm,” said her mother, Robin, “as if she knew her mission was to love on Kylie.”

When Kylie passed, her family was overwhelmed by a sadness they never knew was possible. Liza the kitten honed in on their grief and offered love and comfort. Whenever Robin started to cry, Liza would find her and curl up in her lap. And for all her kitten snuggles, Liza also brought some laughter to the family with her playful antics. They miss their daughter every day, but the love between them and Liza created a bridge of hope — one that was strong enough to span even the fathomless abyss of grief.

Jessi & Andi

Jessi’s boyfriend was always the life of the party. They often talked about getting married and building their lives together — then his suicide cast her suddenly into the darkest period of her life. Anxiety, isolation, sleeplessness, and self-doubt immobilized her, and propelled her into a downward spiral of depression.

One day, Jessi randomly started looking at adoptable shelter dogs online to take her mind off her problems. She came upon the photo of Andi, an 8-month-old puppy at a local shelter. Jessi thought Andi was “one of the most pitiful dogs I’d ever seen. She looked how I felt, and I felt a connection with her through that very sad photo.” She knew adopting Andi was what she needed to do.

Andi’s presence shielded Jessi from the darkness in her head, helping her recover emotionally and physically from her boyfriend’s suicide. Now, Jessi and Andi are avid hikers and have created a new happy, healthy life together.

These stories are a true tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, as well as the restorative impact of the human-animal bond. The vital connections formed with their rescue pets helped these deeply bereaved people feel seen, understood, and loved — three of the most essential things we need as we navigate grief.

Our innate connection to living creatures flows from a place that’s deeply embedded in our common humanity. That’s one of the most moving aspects of rescue animals: Their therapeutic benefits are available to us all.

Author's Bio: 

Carol Novello is the founder of Mutual Rescue™ and author of “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” (Grand Central Publishing, April 2019). Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that highlights the connection between people and pets in order to inspire and support life-saving efforts in communities across the nation and world. Mutual Rescue’s first short film, “Eric & Peety,” went viral around the globe and has been viewed more than 100 million times. For more information, visit