Date of Paper

5-2013

Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)

Department

Social Work

First Advisor

Andrea Nesmith

Abstract

The majority of American households own a pet; however, despite the widespread popularity of companion animal ownership, modern society does not regard companion animal loss as “socially significant” loss, making this a form of disenfranchised grief. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of how veterinarian interactions with companion animal owners at the time of their companion animal’s death impacted their grief process. Using a qualitative design, five bereaved companion animal owners were interviewed about their experience of companion animal loss in a clinical veterinary setting and the ways in which their veterinarian impacted their experience. The data was analyzed and coded using an inductive grounded method, and emerging themes and categories were identified. Themes were categorized as pre-loss experiences, time of loss experiences, and post-loss experiences. Key findings from the themes included the significant and unique relationship experienced between owner and animal, the powerful impact of veterinarian communication, and how the intensity level of owner caregiving demands prior to loss impacted the bereaved’s post loss adjustment period. These findings highlight the importance for social workers to widen their scope of practice to include companion animal losses.

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