TIGER program helps to ease the loss of a pet

Dec 6, 2013

The loss of a pet can be difficult for some to go through.

The MU College of Veterinary Medicine implemented a new program that helps pet owners and veterinary students go through losing a pet. TIGER, or Together In Grief Easing Recovery, was developed as a collaboration between the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction and the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Francesca Tocco is a doctoral candidate in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and a Grief Program Assistant with TIGER who came to MU nearly two years ago. She saw there was a need to revive this kind of program that fell apart after a former professor left about a decade ago.

“Most colleges of veterinary medicine around the country have some sort of program to address grief, loss and other issues that can come up,” Tocco said. “Some are advanced and offer many services, some are at the beginning stages. A need was recognized and MU is starting to get its feet off the ground.”

Rebecca Johnson is a professor and director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction. RCHAI was born in 2005, and she says without it, this type of program could not be possible. Johnson has noticed how much the role of an animal has changed over time.

“Over recent years companion animals have gone from living outside and doing work, to living on the porch, to living in the kitchen, to now living with families,” Johnson said. "Because that bond has intensified, it is even more important when one loses a companion animal, and this can be a very sad and stressful experience.” 

Some of the services the program provides include anticipating the loss of a pet, how to talk to children losing a pet, ways to memorialize the bond and grief counseling. Tocco says she loves meeting patients face-to-face and even asks them to bring pictures to grasp a sense of that bond.

“My favorite part so far has been looking at the pictures and hearing about the memories they invoke and the stories that get brought up during our time together,” Tocco said.

Johnson said the program has received positive feedback, and in the future she hopes the program can extend beyond the Veterinary Teaching Hospital to people throughout the mid-Missouri area.