Counseling the caretaker

by Emily Ayshford

After years of treating her dog Happy’s lymphoma with chemotherapy, Paulette Henderson wondered when enough was enough.

Because of a new partnership between the Veterinary Medical Center and the School of Social Work, Henderson was able to discuss her feelings and grief about her sick dog with a social services intern.

The two fields partnered last fall to create the position after officials recognized a need for additional emotional support for clients.

The intern, School of Social Work student Jeannine Moga, on Wednesdays and Fridays counsels clients with animals that are being treated at the center.

“To be let into their lives when they are in such a difficult place is really a privilege and very rewarding,” said Moga, who has experience with animal-assisted therapy.

Barb Klick, Veterinary Medical Center administrator, said the center’s clients need support because they often view their pets as members – sometimes the only members – of their families.

Moga said doctors are sometimes too busy to talk with clients and can seem unapproachable.

“It’s easier for a client to sit down with me for a half-hour and discuss those things because they know that’s what I’m there for,” Moga said.

Henderson said Moga helps people understand what options are available for their pets and helps them deal with the possibility of death.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Henderson said. “So many people who have animals are not allowed to express grief.”

Peter Dimock, School of Social Work teaching specialist and one of Moga’s supervisors, said although many pet owners love their pets, they simply cannot afford treatment. Part of Moga’s job is to provide emotional support while clients decide.

“Decisions get made on what they can afford,” he said. “That can be really distressing for someone.”

Moga said she spends anywhere between five minutes and three hours with clients and often follows up with phone calls.

Along with counseling clients, Moga also works with volunteers and staff on how to cope with their own grief or how to help patients cope with grief. She also updates staff and client resources such as brochures.

Social services for pet owners are becoming more popular, but Moga said her position is the only one of its kind in the state.

Moga receives a $5,000 stipend for her nine-month internship, financed with donated funds.

It is unknown whether the internship will be offered again next year.

“We’re really hoping that it will be continued and the partnership will grow into more services,” Moga said.