When most people euthanize a pet, they cry. Some a tiny bit, some sob hysterically, and most get choked up and quietly let the tears roll down their face as they bid a shaky goodbye. Then they pull themselves sort of together and go home, where they really let go. At least, that’s what I did. I assume most others do as well.
Then you have the next day. If you’re lucky, you have people around you who love you, who loved your pet, who understand and help you through your genuine grief. Life isn’t normal right away. Despite this, we sometimes feel that aside from our inner circle, we have to buck up and pretend it isn’t a big deal, that we aren’t consumed with thoughts of our loved one, because as much as we all (speaking mostly to the readers of this blog) as individuals love our pets, society as a whole doesn’t deem them worthy of the entire grieving process. You get maybe a day.
Mulan was euthanized on New Year’s Eve, so I had the next day off, but with Emmett, I had two more days of work to get through. Aside from Amber, who came to my house on her lunch break to do the deed and- angel that she is- had to go back for the afternoon (after all, she loved Emmett too) no one at work knew I had euthanized him until the next week because I couldn’t have made it through those days with everyone talking about it. Even in this field, we’re expected to keep a stiff upper lip and hold it together.
Being surrounded by other who acknowledge the depth of our grief is a wondrous thing. That simple act can help so much in the healing process, and it is so very sad how many people don’t have that. People who need it. I have seen people buried by grief, who came through OK because they had a supportive family, and others who come into the clinic grey eyed and deflated a week later to get their pet’s ashes, who have not.
When I was in school, I volunteered for the UC Davis Pet Loss Support Hotline. At the time it was one of only a handful of similar services, which I am happy to report is no longer the case. Many veterinary schools now offer this; in many locales, support groups have popped up through the SPCA and similar organizations for meetings and support.
We worked under the guidance of a social worker who specialized in pet support. We manned the phones and talked to sad people, most of whom just needed someone to talk to. They were desperate for their sadness to be acknowledged, for the impact of this one furry soul in the world to be validated and celebrated. We asked questions, we discussed different ways to memorialize their pet, and above all, we listened. To stories of how their pet affected them. To grievances about their vet (I learned a lot from this experience.) Their love touched me deeply.
Most of the time, this shoulder to cry on was enough to help people through the process. On occasion, a person would start talking and you would realize they were in trouble. Their depression was a little too deep, their actions a red flag even within the wide constraints of “normal” grieving. To those people, we recommended talking to a health care professional trained to deal with those situations.
The explosion of the internet has given people resources we didn’t have back then, in the form of message boards, chat rooms, and the like. People can find a vast array of online support through sites like RainbowBridge.com, which also maintains a list of pet loss hotlines. I have this list bookmarked for people, so they can find support through whatever venue is helpful for them.
I’ll open it to the floor, because I’m genuinely curious- has anyone used a hotline or a messageboard? Were they helpful? What helped you get through your sadness when you lost a beloved friend?