Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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The Pets of Christmas Past

Pet Column for the week of December 18, 2000

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

"The holidays can be emotionally difficult for people, especially if it's the first holiday after the death of a pet," says Pamela Vipond, student director of the Companion Animal Related Emotions (C.A.R.E.) Helpline at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. The C.A.R.E. Helpline offers help for anyone who would like support dealing with the death of a pet. It can also provide helpful literature for owners considering euthanasia or going through the grieving process. The Helpline is staffed by trained veterinary students who understand the importance of the human-animal bond and the emotions involved.

"People may feel the loss more at Christmastime if they received their animal as a Christmas present," says Vipond. "They may feel a void when the holidays arrive and the pet is gone. The holidays are a special occasion for pets, too, and memories of them covered with bows and ribbons and tearing wrapping paper off gifts with the kids can make people sad."

That's certainly how it was in our house last Christmas. Hollie jumped into our hearts and home as a fluffy puppy one Christmas day. Twelve years later, a dark week in October saw her transform from a healthy, happy golden retriever to a sickly invalid in a matter of days. Unexpectedly, we had to say goodbye. At Christmastime, it felt strange to have her missing from the family gathering. I made a scrapbook full of pictures of Hollie through the years, so she was there in spirit, leaving us with many happy memories.

For people who have pets that may be nearing the end of their life, the C.A.R.E. Helpline offers confidential counseling and a compassionate ear. "I try to help people think about what it's going to be like when their pet is gone, and encourage them to think about creating a memorial, taking pictures, making paw prints, and even getting a lock of hair," says Vipond. "I don't want people to say, 'I wish I had spent one last moment giving my dog ice cream.' It is very rewarding to speak with people who are facing euthanasia of a pet because I can offer some tools that may help them get through this time."

If you've recently experienced the loss of a pet and you're considering getting a new pet this Christmas, it's best to make sure the whole family is ready. "Oftentimes, the children may expect to see a new puppy under the tree, but the parents may not be ready, or vice versa. I advise not to get a new pet until everyone in the family is ready for it. It's also important to explain to young children that this is not the same pet as the one that died," says Ms. Vipond.

To talk to a Helpline volunteer or request information, call the C.A.R.E. Helpline at (217) 244-CARE, or toll-free at (877) 394-2273. Student volunteers are available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday between 7 and 9 p.m. The C.A.R.E. Helpline also has a Web site at