Emily Wills, a middle school language arts teacher, considers herself a lifelong learner. When she was faced with the loss of her beloved golden retriever in February 2020, she realized that she had a lot to learn about end-of-life care for animals. That curiosity led her to UVM’s Companion Animal End-of-Life Doula Professional Certificate program.
“As part of my interdisciplinary master’s degree program at UVM, I had taken a course on death, dying and bereavement,” Wills commented. “I found it fascinating to explore how different cultures treat death. When the world shifted to online learning in the spring, I decided to take a Thanatology course online. And when I saw UVM’s companion animal program, it was the perfect marriage of my interests. I wanted to learn more about how cultures react to death of both humans and animals but also through that knowledge, I could be useful for others and in my own experiences as a dog owner.”
Teaching During Coronavirus Pandemic Provided Unexpected Flexiblity
Teaching middle school students during a pandemic allowed Wills to structure her day differently and without a commute to and from school each day, she found she had more space to consider her own professional and personal development. She quickly discovered that her perspective on being a teacher in language arts overlapped with the objectives of the companion animal course.
“It’s much more important that we ask students open ended questions and the idea of asking questions to help students arrive at their own understanding very much overlaps with the idea of being a doula.” The Companion Animal End-of-Life Doula program teaches students how to ask questions to help animal owners arrive at their own understanding of what’s happening with their pet and how to companion along with the pet owner through the end of life.
Learning to Become a Companion Animal End-of-Life Doula
Two tracks are available in the certificate program for alumni of the popular End-of-Life Doula Professional Certificate and for learners new to end-of-life care. Topics cover Doula Essentials, Components of Compassionate Care, Pet Hospice and Palliative Care, as well as After-Death Options and Support. Learners develop a broad understanding of this difficult yet inevitable journey, with a focus on honoring and memorializing the enduring bonds between clients and their companions.
One of Wills favorite assignments was the creation of a guide or directory of resources that an end-of-life companion animal doula might need. “It’s pretty rural where I live, so there aren’t tons of options for Veterinarians who do home visits, or crematories in the area. Having a concrete task such as making a resource guide combined with more abstract thinking such as does a pet let you know when they are ready, was a such an interesting mix of real-life scenarios in the course.”
Wills says that she prioritizes professional development by choosing courses that are of high interest to her, so learning doesn’t feel like a chore but rather an opportunity. Up next for her continued learning, a course on building resiliency in students and teachers after a pandemic.