The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine has discontinued its long-running telephone service aimed to help people cope with the grief of losing a pet.
Charlie Powell, spokesman for the college, said the hotline was receiving too many calls not directly related to the death or impending death of animals. The decision was announced July 2 to end the service, Powell said, which has been in operation for about two decades.
It was operated by WSU student volunteers specially trained by the college’s counseling and wellness professionals to comfort people who have lost an animal or pet, or who were anticipating euthanizing their pet.
Powell said the Pet Loss Hotline would sometimes receive a dozen calls a week, sometimes from all over the world.
The problem, Powell said, is there has been a greater frequency of callers who would want to speak to the volunteers about other matters in their life, not just the death of their pet.
He said people would bring up past traumas that occurred in their life, including sexual assault, domestic violence and mental health issues. Some callers would become despondent, Powell said.
It is a problem that has been happening to other hotlines around the country and has forced some of them to shut down as well, he said.
Because volunteers are trained only to discuss grief related to the loss of a pet, Powell said these calls became very difficult.
“Our students feel, in a way, like they are trapped,” he said.
Powell said in these instances, a licensed counselor from the college would have to call the person back and ask them to seek other resources for help.
Students at the College of Veterinary Medicine still will receive training on how to help others deal with grief. Powell said they view this as a valuable skill they can use when they begin working at a veterinary practice.
WSU also offers a Pet Memorial Program to help grieving pet owners. According to its website, the program includes sending the pet owner a personal letter of condolence and allowing the pet owner to post photos and a story about their pet. The site also includes a Questions and Resources section.