Updated: Jul 20
Photo Credits: AGL Photography / Angela Lawson, Photog. Cr., CPP
Any animal lover knows the worst part of caring for an animal is that our loveable fur, hooved, scaled and feathered friends do not live forever. Somehow our pets and livestock wiggle their way deep into our hearts and often become intricate parts of our families, farms and programs. When one of them passes away, the grief can be overwhelming and sometimes unexpected. We can over analyze and rationalize, "it was just an animal," but doing so doesn't honor our grief or their lives. Just a few weeks ago, Parkside Farm experienced our first loss, one of our furry family members who was an important part of our community services and Jump for JOY Program. We are saddened to share, our sweet and beloved pygmy goat, Pina Colada unexpectedly gained her angel wings.
When our ability to give and receive love from a special creature ceases, part of ourselves dies, too. Our routines are interrupted, the absence of their presence is palpably felt and their personalities are deeply missed. Even if those around you don't understand your loss, it doesn't mean you should not grieve and feel the loss you have experienced. Give yourself permission and time to grieve. - Nicole Zaagman
Her passing has been a shock and heartache to us. Pina Colada helped inspire our programing and "goat therapy" services. Her sweet, caring and outgoing little personality shined so brightly in her short life. We are devastated she is no longer with us to continue bringing joy to children, adults and senior citizens in our community with her visits and kind personality. In her short 8 months with us, she was no stranger to the spotlight and lived life to the absolute fullest. Always happy, always finding some reason to kick up her hooves. A lesson to us all, to do the same. In effort to recall happier times, we made a list of our favorite memories with her which include:
Attending and being shown at an official NPGA Sanctioned show
Going on the trip to do our first semen collection with our buck, Zorro
She was the "guinea pig" for our family pilot project February - April 2023
Featured in social media, marketing videos and interview with FOX17
Featured on the cover of the NPGA Memo Magazine in May 2023
She inspired the Jump for JOY Program and services with Parkside Farm
She made many friends, human and other animals here at our farm
She did 3 mobile visits and impacted the lives of numerous senior citizens
Most of all she loved everyone she met and we loved her even more
Pina Colada's light and foundational input to Parkside Farm will live on through everything we do here at the farm and the Jump for JOY Program. Her memory is the beacon and example we look to when days get hard and when things are dark, we will remember how she lived life to the fullest, with joy and a strong heart to see the good in others. Through this process as we mourn her loss here at the farm, we thought it appropriate to share some tips if you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a beloved pet or livestock animal on their farm, especially in the wake of tragic, unexpected and sudden loss. These tips are ones we have incorporated ourselves and have found helpful to apply in our own lives.
1. Give Yourself Permission to Grieve
Pet and livestock loss is just like any other loss. The ending of a job, career, relationship, marriage, any loss and subsequent grief is not just limited to the death of a human being. Animals offer us unconditional love, they're there for us in capacities far healthier and without toxicity that human relationships often are filled with. Caring for a pet or livestock instills in us compassion, bravery, trust, loyalty and responsibility. When our ability to give and receive love from a special creature ceases, part of ourselves dies, too. Our routines are interrupted, the absence of their presence is palpably felt and their personalities are deeply missed. Even if those around you don't understand your loss, it doesn't mean you should not grieve and feel the loss you have experienced. Give yourself permission and time to grieve. Well intentioned people you might not be close to may ask what happened to your pet or livestock, if you don't feel like sharing, you have no obligation to share the details.
2. Focus on The Happy Memories
Depending on your situation and the details of your pet or livestock passing, there may have been trauma involved. It's normal but sometimes unnerving to replay details and last moments over and over in your mind. You might find yourself stressed, confused and have trouble sleeping. Often the hardship of losing an animal you loved deeply in the wake of trauma can overshadow the good times that you did have and spend with them. Taking time to sit down and write out a list of your favorite memories and highlights of time with your pet and livestock can be a helpful gift in recalling and memorializing the happier, cherished memories spent together. Seeing the memories listed out on paper can help alleviate feelings of hurt, pain and confusion that are perfectly normal in the midst of your grief.
3. Be Kind & Gentle to Yourself
It's human to have the "what ifs, should haves and could ofs" with any situation that encompasses loss. If your animal's passing was potentially preventable, guilt and shame can creep in and place a heavy burden that we should never carry. Whether there was or wasn't anything you could do, it doesn't lessen the pain you feel. There's no use beating yourself up trying to change the past or thinking you could have done more. Sometimes things are beyond our hands or ability to change no matter how much we wish things could be different. Take each day, day by day. If you're struggling to move through daily tasks and feel anger, lack of motivation or numbness, please be kind and gentle to yourself. Speak words of encouragement over your life, ask for prayer, talk to loved ones who sympathize in your loss. Take extra good care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, get as much sleep as you can and try to eat regularly.
4. Seek Out Help If Needed
Sometimes it is helpful to reach out to a friend, mentor, coach, licensed therapist or counselor to walk through difficult seasons and that includes pet and livestock loss. Having a compassionate ear and someone who can help validate what you're feeling can help you process your grief in a healthy way. Perspective is a beautiful thing and sometimes in the midst of our sadness, it's beneficial to have an outside outlook to give us the nudge, help and hope we need. If you are able to help a friend going through pet and livestock loss, one great way you can tangibly help is to send or bring over a meal or groceries of fresh food, enough for a few days. I cannot tell you what a blessing it was to have close friends bring groceries and food for the first few days after losing Pina Colada. It literally helped us get through the weight of grief in a very practical and thoughtful way.
Have a story about Pina Colada you'd like to share or your experience losing a pet or livestock? Please feel free to share in the comments. Maybe you have a tip to help process grief and loss you'd like to add. Grieving is hard and complex, however, we're not meant to do it alone.
Nicole Zaagman graduated from Spring Arbor University with her BA in 2009. After working for corporate entities, Nicole launched her creative agency in 2014. Nicole is an accomplished Christian business woman, life coach, author and entrepreneur with clients nationwide. In 2021, Nicole restarted her pygmy goat herd, Parkside Farm. In 2023, Nicole launched the Jump for JOY Program™ using pygmy goats for animal assisted activities to help children and adults improve their social skills, self confidence, reduce stress, experience more joy and impact well-being. Today, Nicole helps others craft more JOY in their own lives through unique coaching, photography sessions and farm education.