Posted 12 October 2023
A Veterinary Nursing graduate inspired to research companion animal bereavement after seeing how practices deal with grieving owners has presented her findings at a national conference.
Kendal Lambert, from Maltby in South Yorkshire, was invited to talk about her work on bereavement at the fifth annual British Veterinary Receptionist Association Congress at the start of the month. Her presentation followed exactly one week after Kendal’s graduation from her BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing degree at Harper Adams University.
Talking about her research, she said: “I was interested in doing this study since my second year of uni.
“I have experienced grief from the loss of a human and a companion animal before, and felt the feelings were the same - but hospitals seem to provide a lot more support, and human grief seems to be an area much more spoken about, compared to the loss of a companion animal.
“After then doing some work experience in a vet practice, I felt I was not the only person who felt this lack of support and wanted to look further into animal bereavement.
“I found that most complaints are made to the veterinary practice during this time and that despite more studies being done showing humans do grieve their pets the same as they grieve a family member, the actual support available is very limited and different.”
To examine the area further, Kendal ran am onlinequestionnaire for veterinary professionals who work with those who have experienced loss to find out their views. The questionnaire – and supporting interviews with pet owners who lost a companion animal - formed part of her final year research project.
She added: “Owners do see their companion animals as family, and some of the people I interviewed felt that losing a companion animal was like losing a family member – one person even described their feeling of grief to be worse than when they had previously lost family.
“Everyone experienced the grief differently and found support and coping mechanisms in many different ways – there were very high recommendations towards using external cremation services, as, like funeral directors, they provide the support lacking in the veterinary field.”
Her research also found that pet owners often saw veterinary practices as too clinical and felt staff could have better understanding of the feelings and needs of those going through.
Many owners also believed further work needs to be done to help people working in vet practices to support owners through their pet’s end of life process.
She added: “Veterinary receptionists are one of the key members in providing this after life care to clients and feel that by doing this talk I can provide that further understanding that many said they would have liked.
“I was a bit nervous about presenting but doing it one week after graduating is the best time – my academic skills are at their best, being fresh from university.
“I am very fortunate to have had Kat by my side for this presentation as well, which definitely comforted me – she was an excellent lecturer and her advice has saved me many sleepless nights.”
Kendal had always been drawn to working with animals, and while she initially wanted to be a vet, as she began gaining work experience at veterinary hospitals she found herself drawn towards nursing.
She added: “I soon realised I much preferred the role of a vet nurse, as they are a lot more hands-on and I fell in love with the time and commitment we could have for the animals.
“When looking for these universities I wanted something rural. I am not a fan of big city centres and love the countryside – I had also previously worked on a dairy farm and liked the idea of being able to still be surrounded by this agricultural side.”
“My biology A-level teacher recommended Harper to me as her sister had studied there and highly recommended the course – I went home and did my research into the uni and applied the same day – it was perfect.”
Having experienced what she describes as a ‘rollercoaster’ four years – which included both the lows of the covid pandemic and the highs of making friends for life – Kendal is now working as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) in Barnsley.
She added: “The course was phenomenal, I enjoyed every second of it and could not have asked for a better support team around me – the nursing lecturers become your friends and it made everything feel that little bit less stressful.
“Knowing you could go and sit in their office floor with a dog and not be judged for any of your concerns is something I feel many unis lack!”