As a professional grief counsellor, what I do get a really big buzz out of, is seeing people who have had to say goodbye to their much loved pet, then come back months later and they've changed their whole life around!
They've gone from almost being at that ‘suicidal stage’ to dealing with their loss and understanding how we can all handle our grief.
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I had one particularly interesting case which was a woman who had lost their family dog just before having her newborn baby. She literally couldn't pick up her child after the dog died and for a period of around about two months there was just this complete ‘disconnect’.
There was no emotion at all that she felt towards the child.
She didn't want to get out of bed. She was suffering depression and I was a little bit concerned because I thought it might be postnatal, but it was purely coming down to her thinking…” if this is how I feel after I've lost my family dog of 17 years then how would I be if I lost my child”?
And she was terrified of possibly losing her child and the impact that it would have on her.
Once we actually identified the issue, that was the essence of it. She just moved on and made a full recovery and ended up being her happy self again and reconnected with her child.
But for two to three months there, it was very fragile!
Sadly that happens a lot. When a pet does pass, people will often grieve the loss that they had (say) for their partner or a family member they may have lost previously and it all re-surfaces again. A sort of ‘double whammy’ literally grieving for two ‘people’.
Of course when our pets are young and we go to the vet maybe once a year and they get their shots and they're all healthy and bouncy, we walk out happy as!....
But as our they start to get older; we’ve become so connected – so attached over the pet’s lifetime, and we start seeing the vet more frequently monitoring all of their various age-related conditions, we start to realise their time with us is limited.
The other thing is many people don’t understand how much vets & vet nurses grow very, very attached to their clients pets!
Several years ago I had an 18 year old dog and well known Sydney vet Dr Anne Fawcett looked after her for pretty much most of her life. And, when we had to say goodbye, it was devastating all round.
Most people don’t realise how much this affects vets & their nurses. But it was nice knowing that somebody else felt my pain too.
Sadly suicide in the vet sector is alarmingly high. But they're now starting to look at ways to alleviate this stress because of the suicide rate.
For instance some practices are now only having a certain number of euthanasia’s per week, to try and alleviate the stress that it's causing and also especially on the younger staff. And the stress also applied to the receptionists and general staff at a vet practice who are dealing with distraught people on their way out and having to ask them for money. That in itself is really hard to manage.
It also happens to rescue/pound workers who often have to euthanaze animals on an almost daily basis!
Eventually, it does take its toll and a lot of those workers either break down emotionally or they get out of the sector they work in because they simply can't cope with it any longer.
So please… don't forget the bottom line. If you need help dealing with the loss of a pet, ask your vet, “do you use a grief counsellor”?
Or if not, ask if there are suitable services available. You really don't have to suffer alone. Grieving is normal and you can get help.
© 2021 – Karen Jaques – Paws4Reflection, as told to Brian Pickering & Kaye Browne