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

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Care Helpline Offers Support for Grieving Pet Owners


Pet Column for the week of August 12, 2002

Related information:

Services - Pet Loss

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

The feelings of loss and grief accompanying a pet's death or serious illness can be so extreme that they are sometimes difficult to handle alone. The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine CARE Helpline has been established for this very reason and has helped countless people.

Rebecca Buraglio is a third-year veterinary student at the University of Illinois and the student director of the CARE (Companion Animal Related Emotions) Pet Loss Helpline. "The helpline is staffed Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 7 to 9 p.m. by vet students," says Buraglio. "During that time, we answer phone calls from people who are having a hard time dealing with the loss of a pet. We listen to their stories and try to help them find ways to cope with their loss."

Elizabeth Kennedy, a client counselor specialist at the University of Illinois Teaching Veterinary Hospital, also helps to organize and manage the CARE Helpline. "The helpline is completely run by veterinary students who have taken a bereavement class. I help organize the students and address any problems that they are unable to handle," says Kennedy. "People call the CARE Helpline for many reasons. Some just need someone to talk to, others may need advice on how to talk to children about the loss of a pet."

In addition to fielding phone calls, helpline volunteers also correspond with people via email. "Sometimes people just need to be able to write a note to someone about their feelings of loss," says Buraglio "This is a good method of communication for those not comfortable talking about their feelings over the phone." The Helpline also mails packets of information on how to deal with grief, how to talk to children of different ages about grief, and how to help surviving pets get along without their companion.

So what advice do Buraglio and Kennedy have for those who have lost a pet? "If the pet has already passed away, then we recommend making a scrapbook about the pet and looking at pictures that you have of the pet," says Buraglio. "We also recommend spending time at a special place that you may have shared with your pet, such as a favorite park. Making a memorial to the pet such as a grave or a special place for an urn can also ease the pain."

When pet owners discover that a pet has a serious illness, they are usually inundated by emotions. They begin to anticipate the death of the pet and begin to consider such things as how they are going to handle the pet's remains. Will the pet be buried in the back yard? Will he be cremated? According to Kennedy, these reactions are normal.

"When a person knows that a pet is going to pass away soon, we encourage owners to make a plan. Once the pet is gone, the owner may be very upset and making decisions may be more difficult," says Kennedy.

"We also encourage people to make the most of the time that is left," adds Buraglio. "Spending quality time with your pet before you have to say goodbye can help ease the pain and can be very meaningful." Buraglio and Kennedy also recommend collecting mementos of the pet during these last days, such as a lock of hair. A product called Clay Paws, which is sold by the CARE helpline, allows owners to immortalize their pet's footprint in clay.

If you have any questions about the CARE Helpline or you are grieving the loss of a pet, please call the CARE Helpline at (217) 244-2273 or toll free at (877) 394-2273. You can also contact the CARE Helpline by email at griefhelp@cvm.uiuc.edu or visit the CARE Helpline Web site at http://www.cvm.uiuc.edu/CARE/.