Enid Traisman is a pioneer in her field of work as a pet loss support counselor for the DoveLewis Animal Hospital in Portland. After growing up in Chicago and now in her 50s, Enid has set the stage for a novel type of therapy and came to Portland to earn her Masters in Social Work degree as an adolescent. During her studies, Enid witnessed “the ability of the human spirit to heal,” and found her calling in helping others cope with their grief. Her compassionate and warm nature embraced me as I listened to her describe her journey into what she does today. Enid, as a pet loss grief counselor, essentially created her own position through years of perseverance, volunteering, and – most importantly – support. Her path wasn’t always easy though; historically, there has been a strong public adversity towards talking about death and especially acknowledging grief caused by pet loss. But, by slowly growing her ideas and persistently pursuing them, Enid has helped hundreds of people cope with the loss of their pets. Today she works at her self-described “dream job,” and Enid continues to aid others in their recovery through art therapy, group work, and encouragement.
When did you first start getting involved in what you do today?
From the time I was a tiny tot I felt a deep kinship with animals. In fact, I preferred plush animal toys to Barbie dolls! I thrived on finding and helping both injured or stray animals and needy, underprivileged children. I spent many volunteer hours in high school doing social service activities.
During my second year of graduate school, I worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at Kaiser Sunnyside. My experiences there taught me to be comfortable with loss and grief. I also learned that validation and support for the bereaved helps them to heal. It was amazing to support bereaved parents and witness the ability of the human spirit cope, heal and even grow from a loss as unimaginable as the loss of a newborn child. Toward the end of that year I came across a book called Pet Loss by Jamie Quackenbush. He wrote about his experiences as a social worker on the East Coast helping people grieving over the loss of a pet. It was a pivotal moment, it was as if the trumpets blared in my head and heart. I knew from that moment on that I would start a pet loss support program in Oregon. I didn’t know how or where, but I knew that I was meant to help people who love their pets feel supported and help them heal from their grief.
How is your approach to counseling different from others?
I don’t try to “fix” people. I don’t analyze their grief. My therapeutic technique is to be a gentle, non-judgmental guide; to reassure those who seek my help that the grief they are feeling is a natural and normal response to the death of a loved one. I provide reassurance that grief knows no species and their feelings are valid. I provide a space for them to share their stories and photos with other’s who understand on a heartfelt level the joy of loving and sadness of losing a beloved companion animal. I give them tools to help them understand, cope and move through the stages of their grief. The groups are free, they are “drop-in” and people can come as regularly or irregularly as they want, for as long as they want. Everyone is welcome.
I love projects that make people feel good or enhance the lives of animals. Presently I am working on a brand new project with a co-worker, Josey Kinnaman. Together we have planned the first “Wellness Month” for the staff at DoveLewis. During January 2015 we will be emphasizing and providing many on site opportunities for good self care and healthy work life balance. We have scheduled twice weekly yoga classes and compassion fatigue support groups. We will have healthy snacks available around the clock. We have art activities including making scented bath salts, neck warmers and eye pillows. We have visiting puppies, massage therapists and a myriad of other professionals donating their time to support our staff’s wellness. The goal of Wellness Month is to drive home the importance of self-care and work/life balance to our wonderful, dedicated staff who treat sick and injured pets 24/7. This type of work takes a toll on these amazing caregivers, and if they don’t practice self care and work life balance they can succumb to compassion fatigue. We want them to realize the value and importance of taking care of themselves so that they don’t burn out and leave the profession. It is really an exciting project!
What was your favorite teaching experience?
I love teaching veterinary professionals about the value of a bond-centered practice, treating not only the animal, but also remembering the person who brings the animal in, and the importance of the human animal bond. I teach a technique of euthanasia that is humane for the animal AND thoughtful and caring toward the animal’s human family. I enjoy knowing that the information I teach makes a positive impact on the difficult experience of euthanasia for the family, animal, and hospital staff.
What are some of you hobbies outside of work?
I make fused glass animal portraits and cremated remains keepsakes, which I sell through my Etsy shop, https://www.etsy.com/shop/Enidtraisman?ref=hdr_shop_menu. I sew flannel jammies for my nieces, nephews, and children of close friends every holiday season. I enjoy many art and craft activities and love to learn new mediums. I care for foster kittens and dogs and facilitate finding them forever homes.
How do the people in your life contribute to your work?
My husband and children understand, support, and join in my joy of taking in strays and fostering animals, loving them and getting them ready for their forever homes. My friends profess to love my whimsical artwork, which replenishes me as I create it. Colleagues and acquaintances share with others about the wonderful, supportive services I provide through DoveLewis.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I have been facilitating these groups for almost 29 years and as you can imagine, I am seeing people in my group who I first helped in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. They remember how much I helped them, and I often remember their first pet’s name and their story! I receive so many wonderful, thank you cards from people telling me how much the group helped them. I have met people in my groups who have gone on to write amazing books about pet loss, opened no-kill shelters, and changed careers to honor the memories of special pets in their lives.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
A magic wand to show people a glimpse into the future to reassure them that they will for sure get through the pain and grief they are experiencing and feel happy again and will experience love and companionship again.
Enid currently lives with her husband in Portland, and continues to do artwork and foster animals. She says one of the best things about her job has been able to meet the “crème of the crop” of the animal loving community: “I am inspired by the joyful relationships they shared with their animal companions, the purity of their grief and their willingness to go through the pain of mourning in order to heal completely so that they can ultimately remember their pets with joy, not sorrow.” Today, she enjoys eating oatmeal and drinking daily kombucha. Fittingly, Enid frequently takes walks through Laurelhurst Park and leaves homemade glass ornaments around the trees, hoping that it will bring people happiness when they find an unexpected little treasure while taking a stroll. Check out her blog at http://www.dovelewis.org/pet-loss-blog.