Pet loss support through ‘Western Vet’

By Sherry Warner

Western Veterinary Specialist and Emergency Centre recognizes that your pet is an important family member and understands the stress and grief involved with a serious illness, injury or the loss of a pet. It can be hard to find others who understand how important your pets are to you and their significance in your life.

Western Vet offers professional counselling services to assist you in dealing with feelings of grief, anger, shock or confusion that often accompany the loss of a pet and to make someone available to talk with about difficult decisions regarding your pet’s treatment or euthanasia.

Judith Blythe is Western Vet’s grief specialist and she is available for one-on-one appointments on Wednesdays at the centre and phone appointments the rest of the week. Judith has a Masters in social work and has been a grief specialist for many years in the human realm, and for the last eight years has focused on counselling pet parents at Western Vet.

“Western Vet is a leader in this area,” says Judith. “When I began there were, to my knowledge, only two of us in Canada doing this kind of work.” The number of people Judith talks to each week, in person or on the phone, has increased significantly since she started. “People are becoming more open to this type of grief counselling,” she says. “Now there is more awareness about how significant the loss of a pet can be.”

The challenge for some people is they’ve lost a supremely significant being in their lives. And when they lose this wonderful animal that gives them unconditional love and has been their constant companion, it’s very difficult, says Judith. “For example, I often have people declare that they lost one of their parents six months ago and they feel worse now (after losing their pet) than they did then.

“My response is: ‘Did your mother sleep at the end of your bed or did she greet you at the door every time you came home,’” she explains. “These animals are so significant to some people — they make you laugh and give unconditional love — which I think is really not possible in the human realm.”

Every individual experiences grief differently. “Some people come in once, some come two or three times but then there are some who come to me on a regular basis for a couple of years and yet others come back for a “booster shot” every once and a while,” says Judith.

“Sometimes grief can rear its head a year later, and they can’t understand why they are still thinking about their pet,” she adds. “I try to normalize that for them because if they haven’t had the chance to grieve (when they first lost their pet), it’s OK to come in a year later or whenever they feel the need.”

Pet parents aren’t the only ones who access Judith’s services. Many vets and staff members go to Judith to discuss the many challenges they face daily from dealing with seriously ill pets to euthanasia, communicating with pet parents and other stressors on the job. “Vets go into this profession, I think, because they love animals and they love to be with animals. But on a daily basis they see so many animals in pain and suffering, and that takes its toll,” she says.

If you would like to access Judith’s counselling services, please call Western Vet at 403-770-1340 and make an appointment.