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Students run hotline for grieving pet owners

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Students run hotline for grieving pet owners (WCVB, Tufts University, CNN/CNN Newsource)

GRAFTON, Mass. (WKRC/WCVB/CNN Newsource) - 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 25 years, the school has been offering a free service for anyone in the country that many have never heard of: a hotline for grieving pet owners.

"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 University.

The hotline is run by students who make it clear they are not trained therapists or counselors.

But they are looking to practice their 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," she said.

"We deal a lot with children who've lost an animal," said Richman. "It's usually their first experience with loss and death, and if handled correctly, it can be a really powerful, positive one for them."

While the majority 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," said Richman.

The pet loss support hotline is (508) 839-7966, and is usually operating during the school year Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

And while some pet owners may be uncomfortable admitting to their friends and family how much the loss of their companion is affecting them, the students want everyone to know they're there to listen.

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