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Honoring the Human-Animal Bond

Providing compassionate care is an essential part of veterinary medicine, and it comes with some unique complications. In addition to caring for sick or injured animal patients, there is the element of caring for their loving human companions. In the course of practicing medicine, veterinarians become intimately familiar with the realities of the human-animal bond.

The American Veterinary Medical Association describes the human-animal bond as “a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both.  … the human-animal bond has major significance for veterinary medicine, because, as veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.”

In other words, in veterinary medicine, healing applies to both animals and humans.

And in end-of-life situations, the grieving process applies to human-animal relationships as much as it does to any other, since our animal companions do become virtual members of our families.

This reality is recognized and respected at the NC State Veterinary Hospital, and it is incorporated into the education and training of future veterinarians at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.

It is also why grief counseling is one of the services provided by the NC State Veterinary Hospital. A veterinary social worker on the hospital staff is a mental health professional whose job is to help you find solutions to the issues arising during the course of your animal’s medical treatment. This included issues related to human-animal relationships, traumatic loss, and grief counseling. While social workers have been working in health care since the beginning of the 20th century, the integration of social workers in veterinary medicine is a relatively recent development. The VH is one of only a handful of veterinary facilities in the country to include a social worker on the veterinary medical team with the goal of providing family-centered care.

Recognition of the intimate bond between humans and companion animals is also why NC State hosts the annual Kindred Companions Memorial Gathering, scheduled this year on Tuesday, October 3 from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. on the Hearth of the College of Veterinary Medicine campus. The gathering is free and open to the public, and provides an opportunity for owners who have lost a beloved pet join together to remember, grieve, and find comfort in shared remembrance. 

Jeannine Moga, veterinary social worker and clinical counselor at NC State, describes the purpose of the event — now in its fifth year — as providing “people with a safe space to celebrate the animals we hold dear and to acknowledge the animals who are no longer with us. Most grievers find comfort in being around others who ‘get it.’ That is, people who understand the profound nature of the grief we feel when our animals die, and who want to hear the stories about the animals we miss so much.”

 Register for the Kindred Companions Memorial Gathering

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine