By Lara Latshaw & Namrata Kolla
I spent the first ten years of my grooming career working for veterinarians. Because of this I had the unique opportunity of caring for dying pets and grieving customers. There were times when clients couldn’t manage being with their pet during euthanasia and since I was close with their pet, I would offer to take their place so their pet could have someone familiar at their side.
I’ve never once thought assisting clients during these difficult times was not my place as a groomer. If anything, being a groomer lends itself to also being a caregiver for the pet and owner at the end of a pet’s life. Unfortunately, many times pet owners don’t plan ahead for the loss of their pet. This often leads to them feeling like they never got a proper goodbye or regret for how the last days with their pet went.
That is why I’m taking steps in my salon to promote end-of-life preparedness. I want my clients to be as prepared as possible, physically and mentally for their pet’s passing. Making myself available and open to discussions about end-of-life helps my customers feel like they have a friend in these difficult conversations and, when the time comes, focus on their pet and grief rather than awful logistics.
You may be wondering, “How in the world do I bring this topic up with a client?” One answer is to take advantage of your space. I’ve created a Bereavement Corner in my salon with beautiful plants and decorations that are hard to miss. There are a variety of items for display, including candles, sympathy cards, and a craft item by Pet Perennials where people can mix cremated remains with perennial seed wafers. I also have a variety of books about pet loss and grief available for people to borrow.
One of the more obvious items is a shadow box with The Forever Spot pet bed inside. The same folks who make the “mushroom suit” for people made these pet beds and shrouds for those who want to bury their companion animal at home or in a cemetery. They contain organic material and mushrooms that allow for safe decomposition, remediate toxins in the body and soil, and provide a way to return their pet to the circle of life. Just having items like these available helps customers know they can talk to me about this difficult topic of death.
Recently a favorite Havanese client of mine got diagnosed with untreatable cancer. He doesn’t have a lot of time. Because I’m close enough with this client and have been caring for her dog for years, I felt comfortable carefully letting her know the resources I have available and that I’m here if she needs to talk. I prefaced my message by saying “I absolutely am not trying to sell you anything, I just want you to be able to think about your options ahead of time.” I then explained how I wanted to use The Forever Spot shroud for my Bichon but was unable to because I hadn’t planned ahead for shipping time. I gave her my personal experience and explained why I had these items at the salon. She was grateful to know she could talk to me about these things and appreciated the e-mail.
Another way to promote discussion about aging and death is to have resources readily available for clients. For example, you can keep a list of mobile veterinarians that specialize in hospice and elder care. My sister, Molly, hired a hospice veterinarian for her senior Heeler mix.
Molly explained, “Having the hospice vet explain things ahead of time and be available when my dog Flora’s life was coming to an end provided me a great sense of relief. I didn’t have to worry about that part of it and could enjoy my time with her.” Many mobile veterinarians offer at-home euthanasia, and so do some brick-and-mortar vets. Some owners are simply unaware they can say goodbye to their pet in the comfort of their own home rather than a vet’s office. You can also collect and share resources on managing grief. Sometimes pet parents can have a really difficult time processing their sadness when a pet passes away. This is nothing to be ashamed of and could be an entire topic of its own. However, the ASPCA maintains a pet loss hotline people can call at 877GRIEF10. Resources like this and the ones mentioned above are great to include on a flyer.
All this is to say, we are in very influential seats as groomers. We change the lives of animals and people every day in small and big ways. Given how much we interact with clients and their pets, caring for them beyond grooming is not only in our place, but also extremely valuable. ✂
Visit Gordon’s Grooming at www.gordonspetgrooming.com/ to learn more about Lara’s story and her salon, http://theforeverspot.com/sustainable-pet-care-blog/ for more information about pet loss and burying a pet with The Forever Spot, and www.petperennials.com/ for more information on Pet Perennials. There is also a Pet End of Life Care and Information Group for Groomers on Facebook you can join.