Supporting A Veterinarian Colleague After The Loss Of A Pet

Unfortunately, we do not do a good job at “companioning” each other through the loss of our own pets.

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Having a good friend who focuses on hospice and end-of-life, the topic of pet loss comes up often. Add to that the euthanasia of my dear Rosy, and grief and bereavement has been a discussion that has been close to our hearts these days. The conversation often moves to talk about how we support each other in the veterinary profession with our own pet loss. Unfortunately, many scenarios involve the hard truth that we do NOT do a good job at “companioning” each other through the loss of our own pets.


Coping with pet loss

“Companioning” is the word that is best used to denote the emotional support offered during grief and bereavement. While there are professionals who “counsel” people in grief and have the credentials, expertise and experience to do so, those of us who are well-meaning friends and family can provide comfort from a “companion” rather than a counselor. It is still very important and is the resource most of us use for our own grief. It is not common for our clients to seek counseling after the loss of a pet, and it is almost taboo for us to seek any sort of professional help. So, we have each other, and we have a long ways to go to really provide the type of companionship that is needed from us.


This isn’t to bash us for our empathy or sympathy when someone we work with loses a pet; it is not our fault, really. My opinion is that we work so hard to maintain a healthy boundary with our clients, to save our own hearts, that we have trouble taking down those fences to be available for our colleagues. In other words, when you’re involved in a very emotional euthanasia in an exam room with one of your colleagues, you have “the back” and the people out there to help you move forward; there are tasks to do, patients waiting, clients yet to be seen and the team needs you in motion. Yet when we lose our own pet, we often enter into “the back” environment more susceptible and fragile than ever before, and I’m not sure that those around us know how to handle us when we’re fragile…when the naked truth of loss is right there among us with no chance of escape.

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It is not cruelty, but perhaps “wiring,” that leads us to utter the same comforting statements we use for clients, to our colleague who is grieving; it is all we know, and the words come from behind that protective barrier just as they would with a client. We stress how our clients need us to understand because no one else in the world may understand their special bond with their pets they have lost.

Well, I think the most important thing to remember is that when WE have a loss, we are truly exposed as a “client,” as a “pet owner,” as someone who can’t use any of their medical training and background to help them through the terrible loss of our own beloved pet. Just like those clients who sometimes make us uncomfortable, we need to be able to cry, hug, reminisce, and talk with those who understand us best, those team members around us. Does it bring that “discomfort” into “the back,” past the barrier of the exam room door, right into the faces of the team? Yes. But there is no other way.

Just something to think about…

Posted: Aug. 24, 2012, 5:05 p.m. EDT 2:02 PM

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