Losing a pet, through death or separation, can be a hugely difficult experience for the owner and can affect their wellbeing.
For the last 24 years, UK pet owners have had a free helpline and email service available to them to help them cope with their loss. Blue Cross’s Pet Loss and Bereavement team consists of volunteers who work from home providing one shift a week. Many owners have found support and comfort through the helpline, and some have also gone on to become volunteers themselves.
Pet Bereavement Support Volunteer Tessa explains how her journey through pet loss led her to give back to others in need…
I thought it could never happen to me, this kind of grief. All my life I have worked with animals – loving and losing them: helping to ease them through their pain. The day came when I could no longer keep my two beloved birds and had to make a tough decision to have them put to sleep. As pet owners we are totally responsible for the welfare of our beautiful animals, including their passing.
It was tough but I knew it was best for them. When the day came, I was surprised that there were no tears. Later I realised that I was in the first stage of grief: deep, painless shock. The days that followed seemed to merge together.
A call for help
I am not a lonely person but felt isolated from life in general. My vet gave me a list of helplines.
The first and only number I phoned was Blue Cross’s Pet Bereavement Support Service (PBSS). At last someone who actually gave validation to my grief for two pets whose love had enriched my life beyond measure. There was no one else with whom I could share the terrible emotional pain I was in: no one but the kind voice on the line to whom I could talk freely without fear of dismissal.
Later, after a few weeks of sharing my grief with kind volunteers on the helpline, I started writing to the service’s email line and received wonderful support from a dedicated volunteer who explained to me the stages of my grief and the reasons for my pain. I cannot speak highly enough of her support.
As I wondered how I would be able to rebuild my life without my birds, I was aware they were directing me into this role of helping bereaved pet owners and so I applied to Blue Cross to become a PBSS volunteer. It was made plain to me that I needed a year to recover from my own grief before considering supporting others: to go through one anniversary and one Christmas. Once I was stronger and able to help others I applied and was accepted for the training.
Once I had logged on to the eight week course and began reading I was hooked. The learning experience was tough but inspiring and I found each assignment so interesting. I learned about grief and how to support others through it; the tools for my work on the phoneline.
Knowing I have the full support of the PBSS team based in Burford was very reassuring and it was nice to feel part of a team even though I was based at home.
Now it is my reward to be able to offer a `candle in the dark` to those suffering the pain of loss.
I can tell them with conviction I understand what they are going through. I can offer them hope and a promise that they will recover; that my colleagues and I will always be there for them whenever they need us, to support them until they find for themselves the strength to live beyond their grief and rebuild their broken lives without their beloved pets. But always with the cherished memory of years of enriching, unconditional love, and bonds which remain forever.
Find out more about becoming a Pet Bereavement Support Volunteer on their website.