Author Archives: 191mules

The effects of euthanasia on veterinary professionals.


When delivering training to a wide variety of veterinary professionals on how to support clients through pet loss, it is clear to see that the effects of pet loss are also significant to those involved in the process as professionals.

It is only in more recent years that pet bereavement support has been included in the veterinary nursing curriculum and still we see many veterinary professionals struggling to deal with a part of their job that is significant on a daily basis and yet a minor focus in their training.  Having the responsibility of communicating and supporting traumatised and grieving pet owners is quite a weight to put on the shoulders of anyone who hasn’t received professional training in such areas.  

In addition there are aspects of pet loss that can acutely affect those involved when they are part of the team responsible for completing the euthanasia.  We often talk of responsibility grief in terms of an owner having to make that difficult decision to end their pet’s life but many of the emotional responses such as guilt, sadness, and anger may also be experienced by those who were present during the process itself.

A study by Vanessa Rohlf and Pauleen Bennett looking at a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  in professions that take part in euthanasia concluded that occurrence was minimal (less than 15%).  However, the fact that is might occur at all does raise the question of need for employers to risk assess in relation to impact on staff health as a result of working with euthanasia.

“A significant negative relationship was observed between satisfaction with social support and reported levels of stress, replicating previous studies indicating that social support acts as an effective buffer against stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Leavy, 1983). It was interesting that the highest perceived level of social support was attributed to pet animals, while the lowest perceived level of social support involved employers. Again, this is an area in which education programs for management may be required.

This study has several practical implications. First, it confirms perpetration induced traumatic stress as a valid avenue of study in animal workers.  Although almost all of the participants did not report clinically significant levels of euthanasia-related stress, those who did clearly require further research attention. That some individuals suffer perpetration-induced traumatic stress and others do not indicates the importance of examining risk and protective factors. Second, this study confirms that social support and work experience are important determinants of how well animal workers cope with euthanasia-related stress. Third, the study suggests that recruiters should canvas concern about animal death when appointing new staff, so that appropriate stress reduction measures can be implemented as required.”

The full report can be accessed here at Animals and Society:

For information on training in pet loss support please visit our training pages.  Whilst we are currently not taking enrollments on many of our courses following our organisational re-structure we intend to resume training activities soon.  You can also access our pet bereavement support for veterinary professionals webinar series.

Animal welfare in the National Curriculum – Get Involved.

A young boy holds a baby chickThe Government are currently consulting on changes to the National Curriculum. The RSPCA, PDSA and other animal welfare organisations are working to highlight the importance of children learning about the welfare needs of the animals that we share this world (and often our homes) with to promote kindness and understanding towards both wild and domesticated animals from an early age.

The government consultation closes on 16 April 2013 and the campaign needs as many people (particularly if you’re a parent or teacher) to respond as possible. 

It is worried that Government proposals will miss a vital opportunity to educate young people about their duty of care to all living creatures under human control, as set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. RSPCA would like to see the five welfare needs of animals explicitly included in the National Curriculum. They are:

  • The need for a suitable environment
  • The need for a suitable diet
  • The need to exhibit normal behaviour
  • The need to housed with or apart from other animals of the same species
  • The need to be protected from pain, injury or disease through regular access to a vet.

More information about this campaign and how you can get involved can be found at the RSPCA website

“Me and My Dog” – Radio 4 – A programme about young people and dogs

Yesterday our Chair, Elizabeth Ormerod, spoke on the Radio 4 programme “Me and My Dog”.  The programme looked at the relationship between young people and dog and Liz spoke specifically  about the benefits of animals for children and also about how dogs can have a very effective and mutually beneficial relationship with young offenders and prisoners.

Listen now (available until 7th April 2013)

Dog fighting and so-called ‘status’dogs for protection has increased the popularity of ‘bull-type’ breeds such as Staffordshire bull terriers, and their crosses, on urban housing estates. Nearly half the dogs rescued by Battersea Dogs Home are ‘staffies’ and can be more difficult to re-home.

Presenter Mike Embley discovers how an unlikely alliance between teenage offenders and unwanted or abused dogs can give them both a second chance.

In Britain, a number of initiatives are following the lead of American schemes like Project Pooch, which has proved successful in preventing re-offending and teaching teenage offenders to take responsibility for their behaviour – while also helping the better-trained dogs find new homes.

Mike meets animal organisations leading the way, like The Dogs Trust which works with young offenders who have been sentenced to community service. The charity is also about to start another programme inside Feltham Young Offender Institution, while a similar scheme is already underway in Polmont Prison in Scotland.

He also speaks to Scottish veterinarian Elizabeth Ormerod, chair of the Society for Companion Animal Studies, who believes such programmes give offenders hope for the future when they see dogs they have trained being re-homed as ‘model doggy citizens’. She believes interaction with dogs not only helps them understand animal behaviour but their own behaviour and the actions of others.

Producer: Sara Parker
A White Pebble production for BBC Radio 4.


White Gold project and Gill Pearce – Working with animals to help people

Gill Pearce was a veterinary nurse for nearly 40 years before she retrained as a therapeutic counsellor. She now works with her dog Megan (pictured below), helping to reduce offending behaviour in young people.

SIX years ago Gill made a career change from veterinary nursing to train to become a therapeutic counsellor and work with young people. Gill initially trained as a bereavement counsellor with Cruse, an organisation that offers support to bereaved people. This led to further counselling courses, until she achieved the advanced diploma in therapeutic counselling and is now an accredited counsellor.

Gill began working with the White Gold initiative, a police project in Cornwall that aims to reduce offending behaviour in young people. Most of the young people Gill works with are prolific offenders, often disadvantaged, frequently unhappy and/or abused, and very challenging, but usually amazing and interesting.

Gill Pearce presented at the SCAS 2011 conference in London.

Read the full article from 2011 at BMJ Careers – Working with animals to help people.


Effects of AAI for children with autism spectrum disorder and their peers in a classroom setting.

A video from Isaz conference 2012 talking about the effects of an animal-assisted intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder and their peers in a classroom setting.

O’Haire, M. E., McKenzie, S. J., McCune, S., & Slaughter, V. (2012, July). Effects of an animal-assisted intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder and their peers in a classroom setting. Paper presented at the annual International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) Conference, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Methodological Considerations in Designing and Evaluating AAI

by Cindy Stern and Anna Chur-Hansen

Abstract: This paper presents a discussion of the literature on animal-assisted interventions and describes limitations surrounding current methodological quality. Benefits to human physical, psychological and social health cannot be empirically confirmed due to the methodological limitations of the existing body of research, and comparisons cannot validly be made across different studies. Without a solid research base animal-assisted interventions will not receive recognition and acceptance as a credible alternative health care treatment. The paper draws on the work of four systematic reviews conducted over April±May 2009, with no date restrictions, focusing exclusively on the use of canine-assisted interventions for older people residing in long-term care. The reviews revealed a lack of good quality studies. Although the literature base has grown in volume since its inception, it predominantly consists of anecdotal accounts and reports.

Experimental studies undertaken are often flawed in aspects of design, conduct and reporting. There are few qualitative studies available leading to the inability to draw definitive conclusions. It is clear that due to the complexities associated with these interventions not all weaknesses can be eliminated. However, there are basic methodological weaknesses that can be addressed in future studies in the area. Checklists for quantitative and qualitative research designs to guide future research are offered to help address methodological rigour.

Full article can been read here: animals-03-00127

© 2013 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article 
distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license 

Does animal therapy improve the lives of people with dementia?

Listen now

Click on the link above to listen to a recording of SCAS trustee Jane Fossey, a clinical psychologist with over 20 years’ experience of working with older people and care home settings, being interviewed about the benefits of animal-assisted interventions on the Radio 4 programme, You & Yours.  (Fast forward to around 27mins)

Among other things, the programme discusses how one residential care home is using pigs, goats and chickens to improve the quality of life for people with dementia.

Staff at the home are so convinced it improves the lives of residents, that they’re now taking part in a research project to prove it.

Poppy Power


When Philippa Copleston-Warren was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of ten, she was determined not to let the condition hold her back. Here, she reveals how tiny Yorkshire Terrier Poppy and the charity Medical Detection Dogs have helped her lead a full and independent life …

This is an extract from an article which appears in the Spring 2011 issue of the SCAS Journal.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of ten and suddenly I was different – no one else in my family or school had diabetes. Having previously been the captain of many school sports teams, I was made to sit on the sidelines as teachers didn’t know what to do if I became hypoglycaemic. Low blood sugar can lead to symptoms ranging from confusion and disorientation to unconsciousness and life-threatening seizures.

Unfortunately there were never any warning signs – my friends would ask me if I was OK and I would say I was fine until I passed out. One minute I was seen as sharp and clever at school; the next confused and unclear. In exams I would do really well on the first half of papers but towards the end my writing had often become illegible and the content incoherent.

This carried on throughout school and university, until I was diagnosed with borderline Addison’s disease aged 19. Addison’s is an adrenal disease and temperature changes, hormones, glucose and sucrose greatly affect my adrenaline and subsequently my blood sugar very quickly.

A high flyer feeling low

I did not want my conditions to hold me back as I loved travelling and during my early career enjoyed working in high-powered jobs. At university I worked at Saatchi and Saatchi and after finishing my degree went to into Business Strategy and Change Management Consulting with one of the largest consulting firms. People would be amazed how I would give a great presentation one minute and an appalling one the next. I managed my blood sugar as well as I could,but still it was uncontrollable at certain times. At various points in my career I was found unconscious by friends, colleagues and strangers all round the world – from firemen in Los Angeles to a dustman in London.

After eight years consulting I took a desk job at a large international oil company. However, travelling to my office in Canary Wharf was difficult due to the continued sudden onset of hypoglycaemia. Often when I had low blood sugar I was pushed, shoved, stepped on and nudged by other commuters, causing me to fall over and suffer several injuries. Many people were more interested in getting to their work than helping someone.

Enter Poppy …

It was at this point in my life that I decided to ‘retire’ from the city and work from home – I am now a school Governor and also have my own business. I also made the life changing decision to get a dog, to keep me company. Poppy, a blue and tan Yorkshire Terrier (pictured with me, above right), came to live with me as a puppy, and while she never wanted to leave my side, there were certain times when she would not come near me. She would get very anxious and bark or run. After watching her behaviour closely, my husband said to me: “She is reacting to your blood sugar – have you got low blood sugar?” and 100% of the time he was right. When he first said that to me I would ignore him but then I heard about the charity Medical Detection Dogs.

Medical Detection Dogs train and place specialist dogs who alert their owners prior to a medical emergency. These dogs help people of all ages across the UK who are living with life-threatening health conditions such as Addison’s disease and diabetes. The charity agreed to assess Poppy and, after seeing her brilliant alerting behaviour, agreed to help train her to alert me in more appropriate ways. The training took several months and involved training me, as much as Poppy!

poppymeddogBecause Poppy is a small dog she is not as interested in food as big dogs, so I really had to learn how to reward her with attention. Poppy (like other Medical Alert Dogs) was trained to recognise low blood sugar levels, as these levels give off a different scent compared with blood sugars that are within the normal range. Dogs can be taught to alert their owners in a variety of ways, for example by barking, jumping up, licking or pawing. They will bring their owner glucose and blood testing kits, and get help if necessary. They can even be trained to push alarm buttons. general public benefits from dogs like Poppy too, through the reduced cost of NHS care and hospital admission.

Since becoming a dog owner, I have heard interesting stories of discrimination against dogs, and experienced some upsetting situations myself with Poppy in a supermarket, gym and at the airport. We often get told: “We only accept GUIDE dogs!” Overall there still seems to be a lack of knowledge about assistance dogs, and some large organisations that should know better do not always seem to support the Disabilities Discrimination Act.

Raising awareness


I am now on a mission to increase awareness of Medical Alert Dogs and to help other people who could benefit from these special canine companions. At the end of last year, Poppy and I attended the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH)’s Pet Event at the House of Lords (pictured), which was a great opportunity to give MPs and peers an insight into the valuable work of assistance, rescue and other working dogs’ roles. More recently, we traveled to Switzerland to give a motivational speech at Proctor and Gamble about my experiences – I think Poppy is possibly the smallest-ever assistance dog to travel around Europe!

An extraordinary dog

Back in the UK, you may also have spotted Poppy on TV, when she appeared in the sixth episode (8 March) of Channel 5’s popular 13-part series Extraordinary Dogs. If you missed it, you can catch up on all the previous episodes online at: