Dear Dr.Sandy:

Any advice for a girl who’s just lost her feline companion of 15 years? I’m not handling it very well, but I’m not sure if this is something I can talk to a therapist about.

—Saddened in Simi

I’ve seen firsthand what losing a feline companion of 18 years can do to my human companions — let’s just say there were a lot of tears, half a day of missed work and a bottle of Patron that seemed to magically empty itself.

First of all, recognize your feelings for what they are — grief. Then get thee to a support group. Losing a pet can be a huge stress factor, and as Kathy Kearns of the C.A.R.E. Hospital in Santa Barbara (an emergency animal hospital and all-around pet care resource) puts it, “The stages of grief that people go through — anger, coming to acceptance, denial — you go through that when you lose a pet, too. There may be physical symptoms, depression, loss of appetite, all of these things that can happen as part of a normal grieving process.”

I’d like to add heavy drinking to that list, too.

When C.A.R.E. was founded four years ago, Dr. Trish Lane, a clinical psychologist, was treating her ailing golden retriever, Shiva. She realized there were no programs in the area to help people cope with the loss of a pet, so she founded the nonprofit Shiva Center for the Human Animal Bond, which offers group sessions twice a month. (Dr. Lane is also available for one-on-one counseling sessions.)

“Our groups are led by licensed mental health professionals,” says Kearns. “We encourage people to bring memorabilia of their pet, a favorite toy, a photograph, it’s really a sharing thing.”

Those “facing the loss of a pet” are also welcome. “You can get [support] pre-emptively.”

For more information, including meeting times, locations, Web resources and recommended reading, visit www.carehospital.org/grief.html.