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Feb. 27, 2014 Volume 35, No. 21

MU program offers counseling to people grieving over pet loss

The program is free to clients of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

When a person suffers the loss of a loved one, they have many options for grief counseling to help them work through their emotions. 

But there are few resources for people who lose their beloved companion animals, such as a dog, cat or horse. 

Together In Grief, Easing Recovery (TIGER) is a program announced in November in the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine that is designed to help people work through their troubled emotions after losing a beloved pet. 

Francesca Tocco, a doctoral student in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and the MU Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI), uses her background in social work to help pet owners come to terms with their grief and prepare veterinary medicine students for working with grieving clients.

Companion animals can make a strong and lasting mark on the lives of its owners, Tocco said. “This bond does not disappear when those animals pass away. 

“Strong emotional and physical reactions such as grief, pain, shock, anxiety and guilt are healthy and normal,” she continued. “These reactions can often be overwhelming, which is why TIGER strives to provide assistance and support to those going through this difficult time.”

The TIGER program, which is free to clients of the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, can assist with many aspects of companion animal loss, including:

  • end of life concerns such as euthanasia
  • moral and ethical concerns related to animal health care
  • family counseling
  • grief in anticipation of an animal’s death
  • how to talk to children about animal health and death
  • ways to memorialize the special bond with a companion animal
  • resources to help people cope with the loss of an animal
  • grief counseling
  • training for veterinary clinicians and students

Rebecca Johnson, director of ReCHAI and a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and MU Sinclair School of Nursing, said this program provides a chance to put research into action.

“The TIGER program is a great opportunity for the researchers at ReCHAI to assist clients at the MU Veterinary Teaching Hospital with the difficult decisions and circumstances they often face surrounding the death of beloved pets,” Johnson said. 

“The program aims to help people during these difficult experiences, and also to assist doctors and students at the VMTH in helping their clients,” she said.

The TIGER program is supported by the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and a donation from William Canney, an MU alumnus. 

For more information about the TIGER program and to inquire about services, email