How To Support Your Grieving Client

Euthanasia is unfortunately a significant part of our job and although I believe my handling of euthanasia is caring and compassionate, I do detach myself from the emotion of most cases and can sometimes forget just how traumatic it can be for an owner. This is reflected this veterinary webinar organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’ led by Caroline Hewson (The Pet Loss Vet) who cited a study of 500 owners having experienced their pet being euthanased.

The belief of most vets including myself is that we are doing something right during euthanasia, especially as we get so many cards thanking us. However, in reality, of the 500 owners questions, 19%  took their new pet to a different vet as they just could not face going back to the practice despite the majority being happy with the service they were given.

Caroline explained that by taking our handling of euthanasia a step forward and really supporting our clients in their grief we can offer the best service possible. This would not only support the business by stopping at least some of the 19% leaving the practice but would also offer support to grieving owners who can sometimes be extremely vulnerable and really need our help.

Improving the quality of this service has to start with ensuring all staff are trained to handle a conversation about euthanasia at all points of service. This could be the receptionist taking a phone call to a vet breaking bad news and performing euthanasia. Understanding how people handle grief is integral to this with Caroline explaining there are a range of responses from those who are very controlled and cope well with their day to day tasks despite their grief and those who are vulnerable where feelings can overwhelm to such an extent they no longer handle their day to day tasks.

Caroline went into a lot of detail discussing the ‘range of responses to loss model’ within the veterinary webinar which gave a number of insights into why some owners react in the way they do. Support given after euthanasia can very much be dictated by how an individual responds to grief. Offering the support of a pet bereavement councillor to a vulnerable owner is likely to be the best option but may be less appropriate for a controlled owner who may find it uncomfortable to talk to someone about their grief. Offering information and support found on websites where the controlled owner can research what they need on their own terms may be more appropriate.

Caroline advised always having a client-care protocol for an animal’s end of life phase of which only 18% of the audience when asked actually had in place. Receptionists need to be trained in handling a phone call about euthanasia and Caroline wanted to emphasise how important it is for an animal’s ashes never to be handed over the counter, another of the receptionist’s job which they often feel very uncomfortable about. Clients should always be taken into a separate room where ashes can be given and if possible shown out of a side door.

Offering and promoting home visits for euthanasia should also be encouraged often making the whole experience more pleasant for the owner and pet. Caroline also explained how important it is to normalise grief by, for example, doing what so few of us do, discussing euthanasia on the practice website. We also need to be able to openly communicate with clients about the subject and ensure tissues are always seen to be available demonstrating to clients that it is okay to cry, in fact it’s expected. Information should also be readily available to offer support to our grieving clients.

This veterinary webinar has made me re think the way I perform this part of the job, and although I thought I was doing it well, perhaps I could be doing it better.  Caroline explained comments from owners saying we showed kindness during a put to sleep is always reassuring but is it good enough? After all the lay person can be kind and caring, surely as professionals we need to take that step on and show empathy and compassion and watching this webinar seems a good place to understand the grief our clients go through and move forward.

How To Support Your Grieving Client

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