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An Interview with Vicky Nonas, a Sydney Based Pet Loss Grief Counsellor

Part 1: Why do we need specific pet loss bereavement counsellors?

Vicky Nonas founded By My Side Pet Loss Bereavement Support in order to help people struggling emotionally before, during and after the death of their beloved pet. She is someone who understands and really gets the importance of the bond we form with our pets. As grief is an expression of love, it is only natural that we grieve for our pets after they have gone.

Vicky was kind enough to take time our of her busy schedule to answer our questions around grief and pet loss. Pet loss can be considered disenfranchised grief and it is important that there are counsellors, like Vicky, who do not minimise the importance of our pets as a part of our family. She is better equipped to understand the experiences behind the grief at the loss of our pets.
I am sure we have all met someone who says, “But it’s just a dog” or “It’s just a cat” or “It’s just a rabbit”. That may be their experience however to me they are family! Sadly, some counsellors bring the “it’s just a…” attitude into their sessions. Vicky understands that our pets are family.

Now over to you Vicky!

What led you into the Pet Loss Grief Counselling field of work?

My own experience has led me to support others during grief, and loss of their beloved pets.

In 2009 I lost my beloved Cattle X Kelpie, Boofey; a steadfast, loyal companion, life witness, my rock and protector. It was so hard to make sense of what I was feeling and thinking prior to his loss and watching him deteriorate, and then after his death. I was overwhelmed with sadness and deep pain. I had experienced other losses in my life, however I hadn’t felt as isolated. When I expressed my feelings, I found my loss being minimised as it were. I noticed on the occasions I had lost a precious human in my life there had been more support, that my grief had a legitimacy that didn’t necessarily seem to be the case when I lost my best mate Boofey.

I continually searched for support in my grief, I found very scant and limited sources of comfort specific to pet loss. I kept asking myself ‘am I the only one that feels this depth of pain in response to losing a pet’? This question was answered when some years later I had the opportunity to work in the veterinary industry where I witnessed daily the pain people expressed saying goodbye to their pets. It wasn’t just me after all!

No longer having Boofey by my side prompted lots of reading, writing, studying and researching companion animal loss and the affect it can have on people. I established By My Side Pet Loss Bereavement Support to support other people before and after the loss of a beloved pet. Boofey surely has had a ‘paw’ in leading me into this field of work. I am now very blessed to walk beside pet parents through the toughest days in their lives.

Why do families who are struggling often avoid seeking help after the loss of a pet?

Reluctance to seek help can be for varying reasons.

Pet grief and loss is what some counsellors refer to as a ‘disenfranchised grief’. In other words, it is a grief that is often not recognised, legitimate or worthy, and can be underestimated by other people that haven’t had or have a strong bond with a pet. As a result, grieving people can feel ashamed and suppress their feelings and hesitate to talk, afraid of how other people might respond. What will others think? How could I openly express the fact that the loss of my pet hurts more than my mother, father, brother, sister etc.?! Who will understand? In some cases, we are told to ‘get over it’ because, ‘it’s just an animal’.

We can also minimise the loss of a beloved pet ourselves for example, we might think, ‘oh come on, just get on with things’; ‘surely I shouldn’t be feeling this way’; ‘I didn’t feel this way when I lost a human in my life’ etc.

Social stigma or not wanting to be perceived as weak and the expectation to be stoic.

Another reason people may be reluctant to seek help is for privacy reasons, preferring to work through their own losses, whilst others feel they are being a burden or don’t want to upset people in seeking out help.

What is the best way for families to contact you if they are in need of help?

My mobile number is 0401 809 666. Other ways of contacting me are:

W: www.bymyside.net.au

F : www.facebook.com/Bymysideau  or search By My Side Pet Loss Counselling