PULLMAN, Wash. — The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine has begun operating a Pet Loss Support Hotline for grieving animal owners.
Callers can access the hotline by calling 509/335-5704. Specially trained WSU veterinary student volunteers will staff the phones as compassionate listeners. Hours of operation for the service are 6:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 1-3 p.m. Saturdays. Similar to other grief hotline services offered around the country, long distance calls to the service are not toll free. Calls coming in after hours will be promptly returned on a collect basis.
“This is an exciting new part of our service to the public and an important opportunity to train students at the same time,” said Ken Meyers, associate dean for academic and student affairs. “The hotline is available to anyone who has experienced or who is facing the death of a beloved pet.”
The hotline is funded by private grants from The Iams Company, an Ohio-based pet food manufacturer, and the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association. The service was started because veterinary students recognize it is an important part of their education and because veterinarians in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have expressed a need for their clients. Eight of the nation’s 28 veterinary colleges offer similar services.
For some time now, students with an interest in the hotline have undergone grief counseling and crisis intervention training through WSU’s Counseling Services and with Kathy Ruby, the veterinary college’s full-time counseling psychologist.
“These students are well prepared to deal with a full range of grief responses surrounding the loss of a companion animal just as they will have to be when they enter practice,” explained Ruby. “The fact that they’ve volunteered for this service means they bring a level of eagerness and compassion that makes them ideal candidates to help callers through these trying times.”
Ruby went on to explain that the students are also trained to recognize and refer more serious mental health problems, too.
“The students clearly know their limitations and have been trained to access the full complement of mental health and public safety resources if an emergency should arise.”
The hotline is designed to help pet owners work through their loss and difficult decisions. Studies show that up to 50 percent of calls to grief hotlines come before the animal dies as owners struggle with difficult end-of-life or chronic disease decisions.
“The service will also provide suggestions for parents on how to handle these types of situations with their children,” said Ruby. “In addition, we can provide alternative resources to help deal with sadness and grief during times when our service is not being staffed.”