Anyone who has ever owned a pet will know just how devastating it is when they pass away.
Shona McClean is a trained counsellor, who, inspired by the loss of her own dog, decided to use her skills to help others.
Dog lover Shona McLean will never forget the moment as a little girl when her parents took their beloved dog Kim to the vets.
“Dad went in with Kim and came out just holding her lead and collar. We were all totally bereft,” she recalled.
“That was my first experience of losing a pet as a young child and it made me see the huge role pets play in our lives.
“I was only around 11 at the time but me and my younger sister Sarah were heartbroken.”
Years later, when she trained as a counsellor herself, she decided to offer a service for people who felt the same.
Now Shona runs All Ears Pet Bereavement Counselling through Facebook helping pet owners come to terms with their loss.
Based in Doncaster, clients book through the site to meet her for one to one therapy.
A survey by Animal Friends Pet Insurance found that half of pet owners felt the same level of sadness as losing a relative.
So Shona’s role is vital in helping them handle loss in a healthy way.
Shona McLean and her sister Sarah with Kim, their childhood pet.
“I wanted to help other owners as there is still a stigma around grieving for pets.
“People will say, ‘Oh, it’s only a dog or a cat, get another one,'” Shona explains.
“But these animals are loved like family members.
“Often, young children confide in their dog or cat when they’re little and go into their adult life with them.
“For the elderly, the pet may be their only companion. They give us unconditional love.
“So it’s natural to need to grieve when they’re no longer with us.”
Offering a bereavement service to clients who had lost their pets meant she could help.
Shona says her clients like to meet face to face to discuss their feelings.
And as an animal lover and pet owner herself, she is well equipped to empathise with them.
“Pets are a such a huge part of our lives,” she explains.
“They are part of the family and in some cases can be in our lives longer than a partner is.
“So when the time comes for them to go we experience grief as we would for a person.”
Shona’s advice is to find someone who you can talk to, whether it be an understanding friend or a professional counsellor, and take time to grieve.
The 37-year-old adds: “The most important thing to understand is that it is OK to feel this way.
“With any bereavement, you need to talk about these feelings to process them.
“Sadly, if this doesn’t happen and people try to bottle it up, it can manifest in mental health problems later on.”
Ruby the Boxer dog and Freya, Emma’s daughter.
Emma Overson is Shona's friend and she helped her and her daughter Freya cope when Boxer Ruby had cancer.
Emma, who is 37 and from Gainsborough, said: “Ruby had cancer and she’d been with me from before Freya was born, and through a marriage break up.
“She had been a huge support and Freya adored her.
“As well as being bereft at the thought of losing her, I had to manage Freya’s emotions too.
“Shona advised me to be honest with Freya so she knew Ruby was ill and that she couldn’t get better.”
Emma and her daughter organised a party for Ruby and took her for a final beach walk.
When it was her time to go, Freya understood that putting her to sleep was the kindest thing to do.
Emma said: “Having Shona there for advice meant I was able to manage my grief and help Freya too during a very difficult time, and meant we could celebrate Ruby’s life too.”
Emma Overson and Boxer Ruby.
If you're looking for support following bereavement, help is available.
The Blue Cross animal charity offers a pet bereavement helpline service for families and advice and literature for how to explain the loss to children. www.bluecross.org.uk
The British Horse Society have a ‘Friends at the End’ scheme supporting owners when they have to say goodbye with over 100 volunteers trained up to help. www.bhs.org.uk
And the Animal Welfare Foundation has a leaflet, ‘Saying goodbye – the ultimate kindness’ informing owners about euthanasia. www.bva-awf.org.uk
Do you know of someone doing remarkable things for pets and their owners like Shona?
I’d love to hear about them, so click here to get in touch.