Loyola Magazine

Grieving the loss of a beloved pet

Loyola grad authors book to help those mourning a pet's death

For years Tracie Barton-Barrett wanted to write a book about pet loss. She conducted research and compiled files of labeled articles. But they sat neglected for months, gathering dust.

Then, in 2012, as Barton-Barrett was experiencing her own grief near the anniversary of the death of her cat, Kimball Kitty, she had an idea.

“It just hit me like a ton of bricks: make the book fiction,” said Barton-Barrett, who earned an M.S. in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola in 2002 and a Certificate for Advanced Study in 2003.

“Ironically I abhorred fiction growing up. The idea to write the book as fiction really came from something bigger than myself. Once the book switched [from non-fiction] to fiction, it took on new energy and a new trajectory.”

The book, Buried Deep in our Hearts, came together, telling the fictional stories of a cat, a dog, a horse, and their families.

When the book was published, Barton-Barrett saw it as a tribute to Kimball Kitty and a positive outcome to come from her grief over her cat’s death.

“I remember one writer said that one of the first jobs of an author is to observe. That fits so perfectly with psychology. I would observe people with their animals. I would observe, and I would listen,” said Barton-Barrett. “I think that fiction in some ways can be easier to digest. The reader can say there’s almost a nice, safe wall. My intention was to create a book using relatable characters with whom the reader could reminisce, reflect, and heal.”

The book also includes pet loss resources and book discussion questions to help the reader.

“One of my professors at Loyola said, ‘With grief, don’t do nothing,’” said Barton-Barrett. “That really stuck. ‘Don’t do nothing.’ There’s an energy that can come from grief, so use that.”

And the loss of a pet is similar to the loss of any loved one, explained Barton-Barrett, a licensed professional counselor who lives outside Raleigh, N.C., and teaches psychology at Johnston Community College.

Readers of Buried Deep in our Hearts tell her that it is sad in parts, but that they loved it.

“Well, it is sad,” said the author. “But there are scenes of love in there. Some people will say, ‘I cried so much through your book, but I loved it.’”

Through the book and through her work, Barton-Barrett hopes to help people heal from the loss of a pet. She included children in the book to highlight how with children, often their first experiences with death come with the loss of a beloved pet. She explores the stigma men face when losing a pet, sometimes not feeling they are able to grieve.

“Our culture doesn’t handle death very well anyway,” she said, adding that people often don’t understand what grief looks like—especially when people are mourning the loss of pets.

“People are starting to understand that animals provide so many roles for us. They’re a place of joy, they’re humorous, and their accessibility and approachability is just understandable. And then there’s the unconditional love. There’s no other being in the world that is going to be as consistently happy to see you coming home.”

When a loved one loses a pet, Barton-Barrett suggests letting the person cry, listening without judgment, and simply saying, “I’m sorry. I love you. I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you.”

Today Barton-Barrett has two cats, Oliver Monkey and Rutherford B. Barrett, and the beginning of an idea for her next book. But her focus right now is on spreading the word about Buried Deep in Our Hearts and trying to help people heal.

“Animals have this way of bypassing our defenses and going straight to our hearts,” she said.