Weekend Sunrise (Channel 7) sheds lights on pet loss and grief with Dr Michael O’Donogohue


Every pet owner dreads the time they have to say goodbye to their beloved companions.

It’s a life event that people don’t like to think about and most people don’t know how to handle with sensitivity. Our very own Dr. Michael O’Donoghue appeared on Channel 7’s Sunrise to talk about this very topic.

(skip to video clip and transcript)

Those grieving often suffer in silence because the lack of understanding in the outside world means sympathy is hard to come by.  Pet owners are often told, “it’s just an animal” or “you can always get another one” – comments which can understandably be hard to hear.

In reality, their pet was a family member, a source of constant companionship, a staple in the owner’s daily life, so much so that when they pass away the loss leaves a gaping hole in their routine and heart.

The loss of a pet is something that many go through quietly. Dr. Michael O’Donoghue aims to help people in this difficult time, by connecting grieving pet owners with the support they need. He highly recommends reaching out to qualified professionals who truly understand the pain and grief an individual is going through.

Video: The Weekend Sunrise team discuss dealing with the death of a beloved family pet on Australia’s number 1 Breakfast Show, with guest expert Dr Michael O’Donoghue

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Resources & Support

Counselling: If you are dealing with the loss of a pet and need to speak to a professional, you can call Australia’s first 24/7 hotline on 1300 431 450  or find a qualified pet loss counsellor by browsing the profiles on our pet loss support website.

Sympathy Cards: Or, if you know of someone who has suffered the loss of a pet and want to show your sympathy, Dr Michael O’Donoghue has also produced a range of pet sympathy cards specifically designed to offer support and sympathy to grieving pet owners, including the contact details of qualified professionals should they wish to reach out.

Interview Transcript

Monique Wright: Those who have never owned or loved a pet might be surprised to know that losing an animal family member can bring the same sort of sadness and emotion as losing a close human.

Andrew O’Keefe:  What’s worse, is many don’t realize what pet owners feel and go through after losing their buddy and expect them to just snap out of it and get over the grief.  But there is help at hand.  Joining us in Brisbane is vet and pet counsellor, Dr. Michael O’Donoghue and his dog Rainbow.  Also here in studio is Sandra Nguyen, who recently lost her beloved British Shorthair, Chardonnay. Sandra – thanks for joining us – you only lost Chardonnay last week, I’m sorry about that.  It’s very sudden, obviously, when this happens. Very hard.  What have you been feeling since then?

Sandra Nguyen: I think, obviously, you get really sad, but I think that one of the initial emotions is guilt. I wonder if there is something I could have done.  Should I have picked up something sooner? Was it my fault?

Andrew O’Keefe: How did Chardonnay die?

Sandra Nguyen: Her lungs actually failed quite suddenly.

Monique Wright: You work with animals so you are in an environment where, I would imagine, that your co-workers would appreciate the magnitude of losing her, but what about outside of that?  We hear that people are told it’s only an animal, it’s only a pet, you can get another one.  Where really you need time to grieve for the cat that you love and that has been your mate for the past 12 years.

Sandra Nguyen: Yeah, exactly right.  That’s exactly right.  The companionship that she showed us for the last 12 years, losing that is really like losing a friend.  Even just little things like you go to feed her and she’s not there anymore.  You almost feel that grief again and relive the loss.

Andrew O’Keefe: I remember when the cleaner let Bertie out of his cage when we were young, and mum replaced Bertie very quickly.  Bertie was a budgie.  I don’t feel like we had time to grieve.

Monique Wright: It was too soon.

Andrew O’Keefe: Yes.

Monique Wright: And see the effect, then you become not normal!  If you don’t deal with it properly.

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: No. Haha

Monique Wright: Which is where you come in Michael.  You’re a vet but you are also a co-founder of a counseling service for owners who have lost their pets. How do you help them?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: It’s just about bringing awareness to the depth of grief that people feel.  It’s sometimes it’s overwhelming and they really need to reach out to a professional who can help them work through the grief.

Andrew O’Keefe: Michael, does it differ according to the pet?  Obviously, people have very deep attachments to their dogs and cats but do you see people who feel grief upon losing a budgee, an axolotl or their ferret?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Oh, absolutely, it can be any kind of pet and the bond is still really strong.

Monique Wright: As Sandra pointed out, she’s reminded constantly as she goes to feed and to groom, or opening the door to let them in and out or walking a dog; which can have a greater impact on day to day life, than even losing a relative or a friend that you might not see every day.

Andrew O’Keefe: Because you’re there all the time.

Monique Wright: Exactly

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Absolutely.  They are such a huge part of your life.  They are with you 24 hours a day and when you lose them there is a big black hole in your life.

Andrew O’Keefe: Indeed.

Andrew O’Keefe: Michael, Rainbow has cancer.  So, you’re going no doubt going to have some pretty difficult decisions to make rather soon. This is another thing about losing a pet.  You have to sometimes take ownership of their death.

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Yeah, that certainly is a hard part. Even as a vet I can’t do everything to save her. You know, we’ve had some treatment and she’s responded really well… but facing the thought of losing our dear Rainbow, that’s very sad.

Andrew O’Keefe: How old is Rainbow?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Rainbow is 11 years old now.

Monique Wright: She’s absolutely gorgeous. What advice would you give people that are going through grief right now like Sandra?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: It’s important to find people around you that are supportive in a way that you can openly express your grief and feel secure and supported in that.  If you don’t have that it’s really important to reach out to professional help in somebody that really understands.

Andrew O’Keefe: Is it important to give them a good a send off as well?

Dr. Michael O’Donoghue: Oh, yes.

Andrew O’Keefe: Did you have a funeral for Chardonnay, Sandra?

Sandra Nguyen: Well, when we get her ashes back, yes, we will scatter her

Monique Wright: Beautiful

Andrew O’Keefe: Terrific

Monique Wright: Thank you both very much. We really appreciate you coming in.

Andrew O’Keefe: It’s very interesting, thank you.