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North Kitsap veterinarians care for humans, too

NORTH END — After two years she’s still recovering from the loss of a special feathered companion. She still thinks about the bird daily.

She had Roo the cockatoo for 11 years.

She describes Roo as a friend who’d be there no matter what, the little creature who’d be there through thick and thin.

Then one day Roo needed surgery. No big deal she thought, Roo will be fine, it’s routine.

But it wasn’t routine, Roo died on the surgery table and Janice Hill screamed, cried and shook when she got the call.

“I remember handing the bird to the vet and it looked at me like ‘Oh what are you doing?’ And I will always remember that moment,” said Hill, who worked for years at Kingston’s Pet Medical Center at Apple Tree Cove and is now one of three owners of Swim Spaw, a dog therapy spa. “I cried, I cried for days about that bird. I still cry about that bird. It’s the same reaction if you find out your best friend got killed in a car accident.”

Animals have a unique way of loving and emotionally connecting to a human without any drama or fear of rejection.

Some refer to the bond as unconditional love. Others describe it as a companion who’s truly a best friend.

The loss of a pet is comparable to the loss of a loved one, and veterinarians are the doctors who must help the grieving family.

Pets have become such a part of the family, vets are now trained in grief counseling. And the reality of it is most owners will out live their pets.

“It’s a lot of empathizing,” said Apple Tree Cove Veterinarian Robert Dammeyer, who’s been a vet since 1991. “I’d say the biggest thing I see is overwhelming sadness and guilt about whether they’re doing the right thing. It’s really about reassuring people they’re making the best possible decision they can. It’s being a shoulder for them to lean on and cry on.”

To help clients Dammeyer is always available after a pet loss, he thoroughly explains all the options and procedures, always reassures them they made the right decision, and provides them with the number to the pet grieving hot line operated by Washington State University veterinarian students.

Poulsbo’s Animal Emergency and Trauma Center, Practice Manager Deborah Amiga said a component of new staff training is grief counseling, and the staff regularly gets together to discuss how to help grieving owners.

The center sees about 60 animals a week and 250 to 300 a month and Amiga said 25 to 30 percent of their visits end in euthanasia. It’s a procedure most owners chose to be present for, she said.

“The doctor is there to be available for the client. It’s always a support role,” Amiga said. “We provide resources they can go to to get help with grief.”

Regardless of who the client is all grieve in their own way when responding to the loss of a best friend.

“It’s an interesting psychological phenomena. There are animals outside our species we can feel so connected to,” Amiga explained. “You may not have another person but you always have an animal and that’s a strong bond.”

Dammeyer said he’s had the biggest, most stoic men who looked as though they’ve never a cried a tear in their lives break down, to the frail elderly lady who kept a stiff upper lip, who probably went home to cry.

Love for pets is an emotion that touches thousands in Kitsap County.

Dana Lerma, the director of development at the Kitsap Humane Society in Silverdale said adoptions are on the rise and euthanasia is down 90 percent over the last few years.

In 2008 the humane society adopted out 2,841 animals.

“I get to see the outpouring of love,” Lerma said.

In 2008, 8,922 cat and dog licenses were sold by the county.

If coping with the loss of a pet contact the WSU hotline at 1-(866) 266-8635 or (509) 335-5704 or e-mail plhl@vetmed.wsu.edu.

Swim Spaw is a an organization that provides warm water therapy for dogs, and can enhance a geriatric or injured pet’s quality of life. To use their services call (360) 536-2514.

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