Losing a pet can be difficult to go through alone, but thanks to the Pet Loss Support Hotline at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts, grieving pet owners can find support as they cope with their loss.
"The Tufts Pet Loss Hotline is run by Tufts' veterinary students and it's for people who have either recently lost a pet or are going through the process of euthanasia," Jake Johnson, a second-year veterinary student at Tufts who volunteers at the hotline, told ABC News. "It really just gives them the opportunity to vent and to talk to a fellow animal lover."
- 3September 18, 2020
Destigmatizing process of grieving over losing a pet
For 25 years, the Pet Loss Hotline at Tufts has aimed to not only help grieving pet owners get over the loss of a beloved companion, but to also destigmatize the notion of grieving over the loss of a pet.
"Pet loss is not always looked at as a significant loss or one where people need to grieve for a long period of time," said Eric Richman, a clinical social worker at Tufts Veterinary Medical Center. "But that's a mistake and myth. Grief is grief whether you lose a human family member or a pet family member, people have experienced grief the same way, sometimes even more intense, because animals have a specific and very unique role in our lives."
Richman, who trains student volunteers for the Pet Loss Hotline, said pet loss is "disenfranchised grief" and that loss isn't necessarily recognized.
"All the rituals that we commonly think about when somebody dies, like funerals and memorials, they're not as well established for pets," Richman said. "So the mourner, the person who is really grieving, is searching for a way to find meaning and understand the loss and recognize and honor that animal that has died."
Grief is grief whether you lose a human family member or a pet family member.
Some of the ways Richman tells student volunteers to help callers is to encourage them to reach out for support during a difficult time or even write a letter to the pet that has died highlighting how much they meant to you.
"Losing a pet is a very unique experience. It's not like losing a loved one, it's not like losing a friend," Johnson said. "We're really just here for people to open up and be emotional in a very nonjudgmental setting."
If you've lost a pet recently, here's some advice from Richman and the team at Tufts
Your feelings are normal
Everybody is different in the way they experience their grief, but Richman said that your feelings are completely normal.
Other than the Pet Loss Hotline, there are other resources people can utilize if they've lost a pet. In addition to Tufts, Richman and Johnson said Cornell University has a pet loss support hotline and several other hotlines from other groups have their own number people can dial as well.
"I also encourage people to reach out to friends and family, people who might understand," said Richman. "Because one of the most important things when you're suffering a loss and dealing with grief is to have support, to not be alone, to not isolate."
Richman pointed out a plethora of books that exist for dealing with grief, including "Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief" by David Kessler and "On Grief and Grieving," a book Kessler co-wrote with author and Swiss American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
"Sometimes, it's just finding a therapist, finding somebody that you can go and talk to for maybe a handful of sessions is all you need to help you work through some of the feelings and emotions you're having," Richman said.