Laurel Lagoni knows losing a pet can be as difficult as losing a family member for many people.
“Pets mean a lot to people and when they’re sick or injured their families need support too,” Lagoni said.
Because she saw this bond, Lagoni started what is now the Argus Institute for Family and Veterinary Medicine in 1984, of which she is now the director. The Argus Institute is part of CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The Argus Institute provides therapy for the owners and families of pets who are sick or dying. The Argus Institute’s duties include everything from counseling someone making a difficult decision regarding treatment or euthanasia to helping someone who has lost a pet.
The Argus Institute’s current office is located in the hall next to the waiting room at the VTH. In a building full of sterile lab equipment and harsh lights, it welcomes people with lamps and a sofa.
If counselors aren’t too busy, they go out to the waiting room and talk to people about their pets. Lagoni said this function is especially important at CSU’s VTH because they get a lot of referrals from out of state.
“Often these folks come here from very far away and don’t know anybody here and have to make difficult decisions,” Lagoni said.
Within the next few months The Argus Institute will be moving into the new Robert H. and Mary G. Flint Animal Cancer Center, a new wing on the VTH. The Argus Institute will be located on the first floor.
Over the year, Teri Nelsen, the coordinator for clinical services, estimates that the Argus Institute works with about 300 to 400 clients. Some are people at the VTH and others call from across the country.
“When a pet is sick, people are as affected by that as they would be if it were a human family member,” Nelsen said. “If they’re elderly, the pets may be their only family or for college students, when their family may be far away, pets are very much a support system for them.”
One of Nelsen’s favorite parts of working at The Argus Institute is the training and education that goes on for veterinary students.
Veterinary students at CSU can choose to take a one-week rotation their senior year. During the week, they don’t do any clinical work and only do counseling.
Margaret Garcia, a senior veterinary medicine student, did her one-week rotation in early October.
“I love it. I love it, love it, love it,” Garcia said. “I feel like it’s my area of passion. I love helping people through the grieving process and helping normalize the process.”
“Normalizing” the situation means helping clients to see that what they’re feeling is not wrong or embarrassing.
“I really have noticed that communication skills are really important in this field,” Garcia said. “We can’t communicate with our patients, so we have to communicate with our clients.”
Garcia’s most recent clients were Jim and Diane McDaniel and their 1-year-old cocker spaniel, Digby. Digby had heart surgery on Wednesday, and Garcia worked with the family throughout the process.
“From my understanding, it’s the most dangerous heart surgery to undergo,” Garcia said. “I served as a liaison, going back and forth between them and the surgery, letting them know how it was going and just chatting with them to keep their mind off the situation.”
Last year, the McDaniels lost their 14-year-old cocker spaniel, and the thought of losing another pet was very difficult, Jim McDaniel said.
The McDaniels came to CSU from Erie, after their vet discovered a heart murmur in Digby. When the surgeon at the VTH gave them the diagnosis, he asked if they would like to have someone from The Argus Institute work with them throughout the process.
“I had to be alone up there for quite awhile and you just don’t know how hard it is until you’ve done it,” Diane McDaniel said. “Having someone who can come out and say ‘Digby is doing fine’ was great.”
Digby’s is back at home and quickly becoming his normal, active self, Jim McDaniel said.
“Fortunately he’s doing great,” he said, “but knowing after the fact that one had done everything perfectly with the finest of everything, that’s how one copes.”
-Edited by Colleen Buhrer and Ben Koerselman