PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University’s College of Veterinary
Medicine has established a program to help people grieving the loss of a pet.
The Pet Loss Hotline acts as an outlet for people to share their feelings.

“We mostly have women and single men contact us,” says Kathy Ruby, a
Ph.D. psychologist and the Student Services counselor for the veterinary
college. Ruby supervises and trains the veterinary students that staff the
hotline. “Women tend to call with questions and men usually just talk about
their grief. We are a safe outlet for them to share their feelings.”

The hotline works by people calling in and leaving a message, and then a
hotline worker calls them back with a collect call. Additionally, the hotline has
a Web site with an e-mail link, for people who are too upset to talk or who can’t
afford the collect call.

Veterinary students who staff the hotline receive 10 hours of training, covering
their personal thoughts and experiences with death, basic counseling and
specific grief counseling techniques. The hotline is staffed from 6:30-9 p.m.
Monday-Thursday and from 1-3 p.m. on Saturdays.

The hotline takes a variety of calls, but most pertain to the guilt associated
with euthanasia, overall feelings of grief and loss, and parents who want to
help their children deal with the loss of a pet.

“We really try to validate people’s feelings and assure them grief is normal,”
Ruby says. “Just because the loss wasn’t a human doesn’t downplay its
significance. Relationships are too individual, and no one has a right to tell
you your grief is misplaced.”

Ruby states that the loss of a pet is often someone’s first experience with
death, and sudden or traumatic deaths can be more difficult to deal with than a
prolonged terminal illness or expected death.

The hotline was established because the veterinary school recognized the
need in the community for a safe, comfortable place for pet owners to express
their grief over the loss of beloved companion animals.

If people call in and need additional help, Ruby suggests they find a support
group for pet loss or contact a counselor who specializes in grief counseling in
their area. They should check with area state mental health offices, or local
humane societies to identify local resources.

The Pet Loss Hotline phone number is 509/335-5704. The hotline is also
available on the Web at http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/PLHL/index.htm.

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