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Ohio State program that is helping pet owners cope with grief hopes to expand across the US

Posted: 11:01 AM, Nov 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-21 14:07:00-05
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COLUMBUS — The pets in our lives are more than companions, they’re part of the family. When making end-of-life decisions for your pet or coping with a loss, the void is unimaginable. A program at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center provides support for pet owners facing tough decisions.

The program, called the Honoring the Bond, is only one of 30 programs in the U.S. that provides a full-time social worker to support pet owners faced with the loss of their beloved pet.

Joelle Nielsen, a licensed social worker and Honoring the Bond program coordinator, works as a liaison between the vet and the pet owner, helping them sort through confusing terminology and processing difficult decisions.

“We believe every veterinary medical center should have a social worker available to support pet owners navigating this loss," she said.

Nielsen suggests the following to help people through the loss of a pet:

  • Try not to compare your experience to others. We all grieve differently.
  • Remember there is no standard timeline for the grief process. The goal is to begin to feel better as the days go by but there may be ups and downs.
  • Find an outlet for your emotions. If talking about your feelings is difficult, you can also memorialize your pet by making a scrapbook, creating a memory box or journaling.
  • Find a pet loss support group, book, website or therapist who specializes in pet loss for ongoing support.
  • If the sadness doesn’t ease with time, don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional counselor.

“It’s common for people to face conflicting feelings generated from a societal stigma surrounding grieving the loss of an animal,” said Nielsen. “I want people to know that it’s completely normal to grieve the loss of their pet.”

Nielsen coordinates the social work program, which provides support and collaborative opportunities for small niche of social workers employed by medical center across the U.S. and Canada.

“We hope this group can serve as a model for veterinary medical centers and ultimately expand support services to more pet owners,” Nielsen said.

Clients of The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center can access the social work services during office hours at 8:30 a.m. through 5 p.m.