Last August my advisor started a grief counseling/client support services program at Mississippi State University's veterinary teaching hospital. This program intrigued me the first time I heard about it. So, I talked to my advisor about volunteering this summer because I knew I would have the extra time to take up that responsibility. I now spend an average of 12 hours a week providing counseling services to the moms, dads, grandparents, sisters, and brothers of a variety of four-legged, furry creatures. I have seen bulldogs, terriers, baby kittens, and surprisingly, a horse. More importantly, I have witnessed the love that people feel toward their animals and all of the worry, excitement, and fear that comes with that love. I have sat with a family after they euthanized a pet and listened to the hopes and dreams that died along with that pet. I have seen owners' eyes well up with tears when asked, "How are you handling everything?" or "What's your pet's story?" Grief work is difficult in any setting, but it's especially so in a setting where most people feel crazy for feeling so strongly about an animal. But, it's more than an animal. It's someone's best friend, empty nest filler, faithful companion, joy, etc. I am thankful for the times I've had so far sharing in another person's reflections that come with losing a pet or dealing with a difficult illness. I am also thankful to be a part of such a creative approach to counseling – even if my clients think I'm the vet at first.
Courtnay Veazey is a graduate student at Mississippi State University pursuing a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling and working as a graduate assistant at MSU's Career Center