The Argus Institute is a unique service within the James L Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University.  The mission of Argus is to honor the human-animal bond by providing compassionate support and advocacy for people who care for animals.  Currently, the Argus Institute staffs two full-time counselors, a program director, and an administrative support member.  I am grateful to be one of the counselors with Argus.

As counselors, we are integrated into the health care team, allowing us to help foster a partnership between the pet owner and the veterinary team.  We do this by:

  • Offering support to people who are facing challenges surrounding their pet’s healthcare
  • Providing updates during surgery and high-risk procedures
  • Assisting during crisis
  • Facilitating quality-of-life and end-of-life discussion
  • Guiding parent-child discussions
  • Support during and after euthanasia
  • Grief counseling

Argus offers these services at no charge to the client and has been providing support since 1984.  It is no coincidence that the founding director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center, Dr. Stephen Withrow, is also one of the founders of the Argus Institute.  Dr. Withrow had this to say about the early days of the Argus Institute,

In 1984, we were beginning to build the oncology service… we had people bringing their pets here from all over the country, and they are very emotional. In the ’80s, it was all about science, all about delivering patient care.  Nobody thought about the human-emotional side of it.  Helping our clients cope and deal with these emotions were outside the scope of our professional education … I contacted the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at CSU to ask for help.  I had no idea what would come of it”.

Now surpassing 35 years of service, the Argus Institute has grown alongside the Flint Animal Cancer Center and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  In the early ’80s, Argus support was offered only two mornings a week, with only a few weekly client interactions.  A more recent glimpse backward shows that in 2019 we had an average of 1,700 interactions representing over 1,400 counseling hours for the year. Clients of all clinical specialty services within the Veterinary Teaching Hospital have access to and benefit from Argus support.

The Flint Animal Cancer Center’s oncology group highly values the services provided by Argus, and they alone account for 20% of the interactions. The emotional and communication support for clients who are caring for an ill animal is invaluable to those on the receiving end.  When our beloved pets are sick and need medical care, we often feel out of control and at a loss of just how to deal with the emotions while making good decisions for our pets.  This is usually where the oncology clinicians will bring in an Argus counselor to help support their clients so that they can focus their skills and expertise on the patient and know that their client is in good hands.  Oncology clients have sent our team grateful notes of appreciation:

“Thank you for helping us when we first got news of Bailey’s diagnosis/prognosis and for your support after his death.  Speaking with you was a great comfort, and we appreciated that you helped us navigate the tremendous pain…. his life was cut short, but there was always love and kindness around him.”

“…you helped me at a time I was struggling in what decisions to make in my care of Sam. Without your compassion and thoughtfulness, I am not sure I could have recovered from the extreme stress that this chapter of my life presented to me…. thank you.”

It is an honor to be a part of the team at the Flint Animal Cancer Center. We are proud to work with leading veterinary oncology professionals. The Argus team prides itself on providing compassionate care and support for the pet owners who bring their pets to the Flint Animal Cancer Center seeking care from the top-notch medical team. There is nothing more professionally gratifying than knowing you made a difference during someone’s time in need.

Maria Gore holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Central Florida and is a counselor with the Argus Institute.