Grieving the loss of a pet? There's a national support hotline to help

(WCVB) -- Grieving the loss of a pet?

You may be surprised to learn there's a nationwide hotline that could help.

It's offered by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

For the last 25 years, the school has been offering the free service -- a hotline for grieving pet owners.

"People sometimes are really at loss to even function, not going to work, they're tearful all the time and they're reaching out for help," said Clinical Social Worker Eric Richman

The hotline is run by students who make it clear they are not trained therapists or counselors. But they're looking to practice their communication skills and learn about the empathy it takes to be a vet.

"I've taken calls from people and had people that I've talked to multiple times," said fourth year veterinary student Meghan Hanlon.

"We deal a lot with children who've lost an animal, it's usually their first experience with loss and death and if handled correctly it can be really powerful, positive one for them," said Richman.

While the majority of calls are for dogs and cats, the students hear about all types of animals and those calls have doubled since the pandemic.

"Because of COVID, they were even more isolated and their pet provided that sense of security and connection," Richman said.

The pet loss support hotline is 508-839-7966. It operates during the school year, Monday through Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

And while some pet owners may be uncomfortable admitting to their friends and family how much the loss of their companion is affecting them, the students want everyone to know they're there to listen.

"You never always know the right thing to say but people are always so glad to have someone listen to them and I think that the most important thing is letting them talk and work through grief that they're dealing with," Hanlon said.