Students run hotline for grieving pet owners

Published: Jul. 24, 2021 at 12:32 AM EDT
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GRAFTON, Mass. (WCVB) - Grieving the loss of a pet? You may be surprised to learn there’s a nationwide hotline that could help.

It’s offered by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

For the last 25 years, the school has been offering a free service for anyone in the country that many have never heard of.

“People sometimes are really at loss to even function, not going to work. They’re tearful all the time, and they’re reaching out for help,” said Eric Richman, a clinical social worker at Tufts.

The hotline is run by students who make it clear they are not trained therapist or counselors. They are looking to practice communication skills and learn about the empathy it takes to be a vet, like fourth-year student Meghan Hanlon.

“I’ve taken calls from people and had people that I’ve talked to multiple times,” Hanlon said.

Richman said they deal a lot with children who’ve lost an animal.

“It’s usually their first experience with loss and death, and if handled correctly it can be really powerful, positive one for them,” he said.

While most of the calls are for dogs and cats, the students hear about all types of animals and those calls have doubled since the pandemic.

“Because of COVID they were even more isolated, and their pet provided that sense of security and connection,” Richman said.

The hotline usually operates during the school year Monday through Friday from 6-9 p.m.

Some pet owners may be uncomfortable admitting to friends and family how much the loss of their companion affects them, but the students at Tufts want everyone to know they’re here to listen.

“You never always know the right thing to say, but people are always so glad to have someone listen to them,” Hanlon said. “And I think that the most important thing is letting them talk and work through grief that they’re dealing with.”

The pet loss support hotline number is 508-839-7966.

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