Pet Care Specialists and Grief

Jan 21, 2019   Tracey Aston   Pet Loss

Grief never gets easier. It's not something that can be learned and you never get accustomed to it. Grief is a pain all its own.  That hollow chested, nauseating, all-encompassing pain that is the price of love. Grief is a stalker, always behind the scenes, waiting, until that smell wafts through the air, or the song brings with it a memory and the tears flow. 

Pet care specialists become more familiar with grief than most care to admit or will tell.  As individuals, pet care specialists have gone through the shattering pain of losing their own pets and then losing the pets they've spent years looking after.  In addition to the pets, pet care specialists have lost clients who became friends and then family. Doing this job demands a caring, empathetic, and nurturing person. Someone invested in the wellbeing of those entrusted to their care. The double-edged sword is that by bonding with those in their care, they also feel the loss. Deeply, and many times in silence, because they don't feel they have the right to mourn a pet that wasn't theirs. How could they not mourn? They've played with them, sometimes trained them, gone to the vet with them, worried about them, driven through snow and ice to get to them because the pets needed them. 

Often, pet care specialists have been there from diagnosis to the end. They've shared the shock of a diagnosis, assured a client of treatment and helped research new treatments, watched the disease progress, held a client's hand and wiped their tears when a pet has reached their end. Feeling like family, pet care specialists are often called on to say their goodbyes to a pet who is terminally ill or to be there with clients for moral support when the pet crosses the bridge. This is especially true if the client doesn't have family or friends who accept or understand the client's relationship with their pet. On other occasions, a pet care specialist may show up to a home only to be told the pet has already passed.

Pet care specialists are giving the medications and treatments, tending to stitches with comforting hands and helping lift a pet with a mobility issue. Pet care specialists are the call at 2 AM when a pet has taken a turn for the worse and the client may need to discuss the situation to decide what is best. They are the calm reassuring voice that a client did their best and they comforting assurance they did the right thing. While dealing with their own grief from the loss and the pain from the pet passing and of seeing a client in mourning, they still must remain professional and strong. 

At times, a pet care specialist might find the pet unexpectedly deceased and have to compassionately break the news to the owner and discuss what to do with the pet's remains.  In shock, the pet care specialist must still remain strong for the other pets and the family. At times pet care specialists could be the ones holding the pet and helping them across the bridge when the disease has progressed to the final stages and the client is out of town or on vacation. 

Pet care specialists deal with the whole family and not just the pet. A longtime client could be battling an illness or disease and pet care specialists may be called upon more to help care for their pets while they are ill or in hospital.  Often they watch a client, whom they've come to care about, battle a disease and deteriorate.  They are trying to be strong for the client during their illness, trying to be strong for the pet and making sure their needs are met. It leaves little time for the pet care specialist to process the situation or grieve for both their client and the client's pet.  In some situations, a pet care specialist will work with the families after a client has passed to make sure their last wishes for their pet were met. In the case of an expected illness or death, when there wasn't a will or last wishes given, the pet care specialist may be called upon to find the best care for the pet or find them a new home. A pet parent passing is incredibly hard on a pet, as their passing is on us, yet the pet care specialist must remain strong and responsible for the grieving pet. 

The emotional toll is only compounded by the odds of caring for many pets. More pets mean more of a chance of one becoming injured or getting sick. More clients mean more hands to hold, more tears to wipe and more friends to reassure. It also means the chance of taking care of many ill or injured pets at once and in watching the pets get worse over time. After a pet has passed, pet care specialists are often left feeling empty and drained. Years of bonding, training and care, months or weeks of helping them through an illness, and then it's over.  If multiple pets pass at once, the pain can become overwhelming. 

As pet care specialists grieve, they are often visited by guilt and wonder “do I have the right?” It wasn't their pet after all. It's important for pet care specialists to realize they have the right to grieve, to commemorate and honor a pet without feeling guilt and to take the time to process their emotions, whatever they may be.  Pet care specialists often suffer from compassion fatigue and need to take the time to care for their needs as well.  Please understand that your pet care specialist knows what a pet parent and family are going through and will try to shoulder the grief on their own for the sake of the family. Please remember to include your pet care specialist as those who may need an ear or shoulder when a pet passes. 

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