WSU shuts down its Pet Loss Hotline due to 'inappropriate' calls

click to enlarge COURTESY OF WSU
Courtesy of WSU

Grieving pet owners will no longer be able to call Washington State University's Pet Loss Hotline, as the service was discontinued July 1.

In a news release last week, Washington State University announced that it was shutting down the service, which was provided to animal owners whose pets were facing terminal illness or had recently passed away. Volunteer WSU veterinary students manned the hotline after receiving special training to deal with pet loss, but increasingly the calls turned into something else entirely, says Charlie Powell, public information officer for the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

"It wasn't the volume of calls so much as the inappropriateness of the calls. They went beyond grief, and some were wholly inappropriate," Powell says.

Valerie Russo, a mental health counselor in the WSU veterinary college who was in charge of the program, adds that "some callers were despondent, some were suffering with other mental health issues, and some related past traumas that were exacerbated by the loss of an animal."

That, she says, went beyond the training the students received.

"It began to affect some of our students negatively when they were confronted with discussions that went far beyond the realm of pet loss," she says.

The hotline had been in existence for a couple decades, Powell says. Students in the veterinary medicine program could volunteer to take calls, and Powell says there were typically around 15-20 students who volunteered at any given time. For the students, learning how to deal with a client's grief and emotional distress is an "essential part of veterinary medicine," he says. But he says the college will find other ways for students to get that experience.

Hotlines across the country have seen a spike in calls recently, and WSU notes that others have had to shut down as well.

"It's just a sign of our times, perhaps," Powell says.

For resources in dealing with animal loss and grief, you can go here

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Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.