LOGAN — As a first-year veterinary science student at Utah University, it's not surprising that one of Erin Hughes' best friends is a black labrador named Charly.
"I got her as a puppy in high school," Hughes said. "She has been one of my most loyal companions for the last six years of my life."
Hughes is now one of five students who are helping staff a pet loss hotline. Between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, one of them will answer calls from pet owners who are mourning.
"It's kind of a taboo. Losing a pet isn't the same as losing a family member," Hughes said. "People don't know how to treat it, and how to treat people that are grieving for it."
Professor Steven Lucero, director of wellness at USU's School of Veterinary Medicine, modeled the program after a similar one at Washington State University.
"When somebody loses a human friend or a family member, people are quick to offer support," Lucero said. "When the lose their dog or their cat, or another favorite companion animal, people really don't understand. They expect them to get over it pretty quickly"
The hotline has been running for about two weeks now, and students have taken a handful of calls. Lucero however expects it to pick up once more people realize the resource is available. In addition to helping bereaved animal lovers, Lucero says the hotline is there to help the veterinary science students too.
"Whether they're working with small animals or large animals, every veterinarian at some point in their life will have to deal with clients who are having to make the decision to put down their animal, or maybe having to deal with already having lost the animal," Lucero said.
While Hughes has never gone through losing a beloved pet, she says she can still feel empathy for people who have.
"Just the thought about losing Charly. I mean, I'm sure that I will be an emotional wreck when it happens," Hughes said. "People need to know that it's OK to grieve and to express those feelings."
She also aligns with a sentiment many pet owners feel; that animals are family too — "100 percent yes," Hughes said. "[Charly] goes everywhere with me. She sleeps on my bed with me, so she's definitely a family member."
The Pet Loss Hotline can be reached at: 435-757-4540 on Monday through Thursday, 5-7 p.m.