For students and community members grieving over the loss of a beloved pet, the School of Veterinary Medicine at Utah State University has launched a pet loss hotline.
Anyone can call Monday through Thursday evening and speak with veterinary students, who work under licensed psychologist Steven Lucero about their loss.
“Oftentimes, people don’t know who to talk to after the loss of their pet,” said Lauren Michaud, a first-year veterinary student at USU in an email to The Utah Statesman. “Their interaction with their veterinarian has likely dwindled and much of society does not recognize that pet owners can experience significant amounts of grief upon losing a pet.”
Michaud is one of six veterinary students who wanted to “get the Pet Loss Hotline off the ground as part of our practicum course,” she wrote.
“We all take turns taking the phone for the night and managing e-mails,” she wrote. “When we take phone calls, we counsel pet owners who are grieving the loss of their pet. Sometimes they just need to express their feelings, sometimes they need advice or just to feel like their feelings of grief are valid.”
Michaud and the other students involved meet once a week as a group to discuss articles on pet grief, grief counseling and any topics to help them better understand how to help those struggling with the death of a pet.
The students also study and discuss euthanasia, which is the “the act or practice of killing someone who is very sick or injured in order to prevent any more suffering,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
“Some people feel guilty for choosing to euthanize their pet,” Michaud wrote. “It is important to get people thinking about this so that people who are grieving can get the help and support they need. … I want to be able to help people through this difficult process as best I can.”
Charley Bentley, a psychologist who works for Counseling and Psychological Services at USU, believes the hotline could benefit those grieving the loss of a pet.
“For some people it’s a profound loss,” Bentley said. “The loss of a pet is like losing a family member.”
He said the therapy dogs in CAPS are an asset for some students going through changes. Often when a person grows up with a pet, the pet has been there for other important events in their lives, making it significant in transitional milestones in life, Bentley said.
“A lot of times people really miss that when they are gone,” he said. “People come to see the dogs. They know we have dogs here. For some of them, in lieu of having their own pets, having that contact, support from the animals in important.”
Bentley and his wife, Eri Bentley, also a psychologist at CAPS, bring their yellow lab-golden retriever Boris into the office once a week to use for animal therapy. LuAnn Helms, also licensed psychologist in the office, also brings in her dog Remy every Friday.
Students can come in to spend time with the dogs if they miss their own pets or need help with stress management.
“What I’ve noticed sometimes is that somebody has to talk about things that are difficult to express, and the dogs will seek that person who is in distress,” Bentley said. “It gives comfort to the person … to focus on the animal and takes the edge off of the content. The dogs can be actually quite helpful.”
Ainsley Cook, a junior majoring in wildlife science, knows how it feels to miss her own pets while being away at college. Cook has five cats: Jack, Perry, Lex, Arya and Ghost, all different ages and breeds.
“I totally miss my cats,” Cook said. “When I am deciding if I should go home or should have people come up to visit me, I think that I get to see my cats if I go home.”
When it comes to stress relief, Cook said she knows her cats will help.
“It really is therapeutic,” she said. “Even if you’re stressed, even if you’re happy … even when you just have a warm, soft, purring thing in your lap — it’s a comfort.”
It’s really hard to lose a pet because they are like family members, Cook said. Pets can be a person’s best friend or like a sibling in the family, she said.
“Unless you’ve had pets, you don’t know it’s hard to lose them or miss them,” she said. “I think (the hotline) would be good for that.”
The Pet Loss Hotline can be called Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 435-797-4540.