For the ninth year in a row, Loudoun pet owners gathered April 4 to remember lost pets at St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg. Candle flames dotted the rows of seats as county residents shared in grief, healing and remembrance.
“This is a time of rebirth and renewal. We’re getting together here in the spring so while it’s a serious time, it’s also a hopeful time. I hope that in today’s ceremony, you’ll find some hope in the face of celebrating the loss and the rawness of that grief we have to go through when we first lose a pet,” Dr. Krisi Erwin said.
Wholistic Paws, a Loudoun-based mobile veterinary service, hosted the annual Pet Remembrance Candle Lighting Ceremony.
The ceremony was brought to Loudoun in 2009 by Erwin, Carmen Velasco, and Robin Norris working in conjunction with Leesburg Veterinary Hospital. Erwin helped to continue the tradition in 2013 with the help of several members of the community and St. James’ Episcopal Church.
Norris, a licensed marriage and family therapist, spoke about the loss of her childhood pet, a white rat named Algernon. Algernon came into Norris’ life when she was 12 years old. When Norris returned home her freshman year of college, she found out Algernon had passed away.
“Part of our grief that we have as pet owners is disenfranchised. We don’t get to share with others and if we do, it’s very short and only for specific breeds of animals,” Norris said. “It’s about the connection you have (with your pet) an don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”
Norris said Algernon’s passing left a hole in her heart, but then years later, a fourth grade patient changed her perspective. Her patient had lost a pet canary and she told Norris that every pet she lost didn’t leave a hole in her heart, it left a different color on her heart.
“I said, ‘Really?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, so by the time I die, I’m going to have a beautiful, rainbow-colored heart.’ So my little Algernon stuck me with pink for that little, pink nose and that’s what I’ll always hold in my heart,” Norris said. “I would encourage you to find a color, find that joy again for your animal. Love them, laugh them, cry them, that’s what life is about. It’s about laughter, it’s about tears, it’s about more laughter and more tears. And when we get to the end of our lives, I hope that each and every single one of us has the most beautiful rainbow-colored heart.”
One of the most celebrated portions of the ceremony is the Roll of Honor, a slide show and reading of the names of recently lost pets. This year’s Roll of Honor included countless cats and dogs, three hamsters, two guinea pigs, two horses, two geckos, one iguana and a mouse.
Monique Robertson played selections for the Celtic Harp throughout the ceremony, including the song “You Raise Me Up” and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
The service also included readings and prayer. Wholistic Paws accepted donations for the local pet pantry at the event.