Thursday, February 12, 2015

Interview with Pet Grief Counsellor Karen Jaques

Karen Jaques and kitten Mia.
Karen Jaques was so devastated by the loss of her companions that her career path changed. She's now helping others cope with the loss of companion animals.

What’s your day job?

I work as a National Sales Manager for Splash Magazine, the leading trade magazine for pools and spas, not sexy at all.  The position involves coordinating and selling of advertising space in the magazine and exhibitions at the trade shows here in Australia and overseas.

I am a registered Counsellor and 2 years ago have also started my own practice “Paws for Reflection”.  This enables me to concentrate on the area of pet bereavement and support for those in need during their time of crisis.

I am also an on-line counsellor with APLB (Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement in USA) and conduct weekly on-line counselling sessions.

Not my day job but my weekend job I also volunteer with the Palliative Care Unit at Concord Hospital and in this role I provide one-on-one support to a terminally ill patients and assist with their emotional and physical needs.

How did you become involved in grief counselling?

Having lost my dog Lucy four years ago the grief I encountered was something I had never experienced before.  Lucy was part of my life for 17 years and although I had experienced the loss of close family and friends I found I was overwhelmed with grief.  I searched for support online and could not find a counsellor specialising in this particular field and the grief counsellors I encountered did not fully understand the effect of pet loss and grief.  I was lucky to have an incredibly supportive work-place; this was paramount in helping me move forward with my loss.

What sort of training did you do to become a grief counsellor?

After some soul searching I found that life’s path was leading me in a different direction.  I felt the need to assist others in a similar situation and I could not provide professional support unless I was suitably trained.  I enrolled in the Diploma of Counselling course which I completed with a Major in Grief Counselling.

I needed to locate training specific to pet loss and found the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement in the USA (APLB) was the only course available. I did an intensive training course under the supervision of Dr.Wallace Sife PhD and upon completion and certification I was offered an internship, this led to my current role as Assistant Chat Room Host which I love.

How significant is the grief people feel when losing a companion animal?

Beside my personal experience there have been many clients that defined their grief and I quote, “I have lost my parents and loved ones but when I lost my pet the grief I have suffered is 10 times greater”. Additionally they ask “is that really bad of me” as they have experienced a great deal of guilt associated with these feelings.

It is a time that many people feel isolated; they feel there is no empathy. No-one is walking in their shoes, no-one understands, even loved ones. Their grief affects everything they do and they are consumed with unnecessary guilt and remorse if euthanasia is involved.  A rollercoaster ride of emotion follows; it affects their workplace and ability to manage day to day functioning. Employers need to be aware that this loss for some people is like losing a family member and in some cases more significant, they need to support their employees under such circumstances.

Losing a companion animal is not necessarily through death.  For an elderly person moving into an aged care facility having to surrender their pet can be devastating. Other variables of loss include divorce, stolen companion animal, lost pet or negligence resulting in death. The not knowing where and how your companion animal is can be haunting and can result in sleep deprivation, anxiety attacks and depression.  All can be attributed to grief and loss. There are instances in what is commonly referred to as complicated grief, this is not so easy to manage or recover from without help.

How does grief counselling help people?

It helps to validate feelings in other words to get the support from someone who just “gets” their world. To have support from someone who has experienced their pain and can empathise is a step towards healing and resolution. It helps make sense of the myriad of emotions they are feeling.  By understanding such feelings they can better manage their grief and move towards resolution and healing.

Billy and Mia caught sharing a bed.
Can you introduce your non-human companions?

I have a rescue cattle dog, 6 years old, called Billy. She is female, I often laugh at people’s reaction as they initially think she’s a boy. She is named after my grandfather Billy, who was very kind and loving. I was originally trying to adopt one of her pups but was talked out of it by the Rescue, I went to meet Billy instead and the rest is history. She was severely abused and is very introverted.  To help her healing (excuse the pun) I decided to add to our family.  Lucy had grown up and shared her life with Sally the cat who was her constant companion. My new addition to the family is Mia the cat.  She is a rescue cat and was 8 weeks old when adopted.  She has bonded well with Billy and is really making her come out of her shell.  I believe Billy thinks Mia is one of her pups.

What could we do to make the world better for non-human animals?

Treat every animal, be it from a farm animal to a companion animal, with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Karen's kitty Mia.

Any advice you’d like to share with veterinarians and future veterinarians?

Have a healthy practice which is in tune with the emotional and ethical side your business.  This is paramount, long gone are the days of just visiting a vet and walking away with no support or action plans.

A healthy practice offers a holistic approach to your services. This covers everything from the needs of the clients to needs of your staff. Offer a caring supportive environment.  An example of this is meeting the needs of bereaving clients, offer support including playing an advocacy role. Recommending or providing information on where to get support including Pet loss groups, Counsellors, Rescue shelters, crematoriums etc.  Also general information and guidance at a time when clients may need someone to take control under such dire circumstances.

Key advice to staff is that they include “self-care” in their daily practice and look after themselves and their workers through what I call “taking care of the carers”.  Most veterinary clinics do not have the luxury of a big “team” environment.  The majority are small practices that are self-managed and run.  They often do not have the resources to deal with burnout. Self-care is paramount in any medical or care provider role.

Self-care takes the form of exactly that, sitting down with your staff and debriefing after a bad day, talking and sharing the challenges they face or faced and offering support and strategies on how to deal with such challenges. In larger practices this might take the form of specific carer support tactics. Independent resources may be required to teach staff on how to manage “self-care” and prevent burnout.  This would assist with preventing high levels of staff turnover and lack of stability in the workplace.

Thanks Karen. You can visit Karen’s blog at

or follow her on Instagram PAWS4REFLECTION