There are a few worse experiences for a pet owner than having to say a final goodbye.

A recent episode of The Daily Show is making that clear, as host Jon Stewart shared news of the passing of his dog Dipper in an emotional segment. 

At University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), Sarah Bernardi offers a unique service that few animal hospitals have: veterinary social work – social work made for the human-animal bond. 

Headshot of Sarah Bernardi
Sarah Bernardi, veterinary social worker at OVC

Vet social workers like Bernardi help pet owners through their emotional and ethical concerns during an animal health crisis such as sickness or loss. 

Bernardi told News Talk 980 CKNW recently: “Grief is not a problem to be fixed or solved. But some of the ways we can walk through this grief includes validation. Surrounding yourself with the people you know have an understanding and won’t invalidate those feelings of loss can be really important.” 

She says that the Jon Stewart segment most likely gave people comfort, as grief can be isolating and individuals often find comfort and compassion through sharing their loss with others who have experienced it. 

Bernardi wants us to understand the value of her discipline and take advantage of the service. Her day-to-day might include crisis intervention, emotional and decision-making support during treatment and being present with pet owners before, during or after euthanasia. 

She adds, “Euthanasia is often a big part of the conversation. Bring that up with your veterinary professional even if you’re not there yet. If we have a general plan about how we want to say goodbye, what we can expect from that process, it does take one more thing off our plates.” 

Providing this emotional support can sometimes fall out of a vet’s scope of work. Vet social workers can help close the gap between pet owners and the veterinary team, especially as the industry faces burnout and shortages amplified by COVID-19.

Sarah Bernardi is a registered veterinary social worker who supports patient care teams across OVC’s Health Sciences Centre (HSC), including the Companion Animal Hospital, Animal Cancer Centre, Large Animal Hospital and the Emergency and Critical Care Service. Her position, which began in 2020, is funded by OVC Pet Trust.

Bernardi is available for interviews.


Sarah Bernardi