PET EUTHANASIA WAS THE HARDEST PART OF MY JOB
Pet euthanasia was the most difficult thing that I had to do as a veterinarian. No matter how many times I have performed pet euthanasia over the last 33 years, it is never easy. Isn’t our job to save lives? It was so sad to watch people say their goodbyes to a major part of their family. All of us in the profession know how hard it is; even bringing your pet in the clinic for the procedure to be done. I can’t count the number of times that after a bad day, I went home and sat down in my favorite chair and just stared at the wall. Even though most of the animals were suffering pet euthanasia is still an extremely hard thing to do.
I have always enjoyed writing. For me, it is therapeutic. I spent a lot of time writing, pondering, editing and styling the content of what it is like to lose your best friend. Take the time to read Reflections in Time. I hope it has meaning for you just as it had for me.
WHEN EUTHANASIA IS RECOMMENDED
Let’s first talk about when pet euthanasia is not recommended! I absolutely refused to euthanize ANY healthy animal for someone’s personal convenience. Give it to a family member or friend, the humane society but do not bring it to me to put down! Those were my rules.
The dogs and cats that require pet euthanasia are those that are all suffering in one form or the other. Old age where the animal is: unable to urinate or defecate on its own and lying in its own waste, downer dogs or those that can not stand up or move lying in their own waste and animals suffering from incurable, chronic medical conditions. All of these animals are suffering. Almost all of my clients in my Ohio practice knew that I was a fighter and advocate for their pets. They knew, as I told them, that pet euthanasia is the last resort. I always did what I could before I recommended the procedure.
BEFORE THE PROCEDURE
Once I discussed that it was time to put an animal down, I always took my time and was very patient with the owners. Some people wanted to take the pet home for a few days or weeks, if possible, to enjoy a few moments with their friend. That was fine with me. Other people, on hearing the news, wanted to have pet euthanasia done right than and there. I respected all people and their wishes in difficult moments like that. All people handle death in totally different ways. There is no bad way. Whichever way makes it easier to cope with the loss, the better it is for the owner. I had a huge garden outside of the window of my favorite exam room. During the pet euthanasia procedure, clients would ask me how my garden was growing. Discussing it with them made them more comfortable at that moment in time.
I know it is difficult but when you call the animal hospital to schedule the appointment do not change your mind the next day. The decision to call the office is very emotional and difficult. From my experience, each time the decision is put off, the harder it is on the individuals when pet euthanasia is actually done.
There have been some happy experiences out of all of this. Many times I would have a pet euthanasia to perform on an animal that I had never seen before. Maybe, the clients were from out of state or their regular veterinarian was away or closed for the day. The pet was put on my exam table and the people were upset. I asked them why they wanted to have the pet put down. They gave me an explanation and I usually told them that I wanted to examen the pet first. Many times I figured out what was wrong and told the people that- “I can treat this! Forget about putting the pet down”!! Tears turned to happiness after hearing the news!
SHOULD YOUNG CHILDREN ATTEND THE PROCEDURE?
Many times children at college get a call from family that it is time to say goodbye to the family pet. For them, it is like losing a sibling; a brother or sister. As young children, they grew up with the young puppy or kitten and to receive news that it is time, is devastating. Many parents, rightly so, will hold off on the pet euthanasia (if medically possible) until the children come home for a holiday or summer vacation.
Young children are a totally different story. As a general rule, children under the age of 6 do not understand the concept of death. Over 6 is different and at that young age young children will learn about loss and grieving; something that effects all of us throughout life. Young children can be told that the pet went to cross the rainbow bridge or is with Cinderella and the Seven Dwarfs. For children under six, make up a happy fantasy. The child will understand and believe that. In that person’s young mind, he or she will rationalize the loss at the level of a 5 year old. That is good; a sort of a protective mechanism until the child mentally matures further. Whether that child should attend the procedure, should be up to the parents.
WHERE IS THE PROCEDURE PERFORMED?
Most people think of taking their pet to an animal hospital and the pet is taken to an exam room to get prepped for pet euthanasia. I have handled the situation in many different ways. Many times it helps the older dog in pain, and also easier on the owner, when the procedure is done at home.
Over the years, I have gone on many house calls to client’s homes. Many times the pet could not stand up or too big for the owner to carry. This made it impossible for the owner to get the animal into a car to bring it to my office. Other times, the owner wanted pet euthanasia done in the comfort of their own home. They wanted the pet surrounded by its toys and blankets in a non-sterile environment. For the owners, it bought them peace of mind knowing their pet did not suffer a bit throughout the procedure.
A lot of people can drive their pet to the office but can’t face bringing the animal inside the clinic. Even in the dead of winter I have gone out to the owner’s vehicle and got the animal in an appropriate position to put it down. Most times, an owner would be holding the pet while I injected the drug in to the veins. Again, for the owners, a peaceful way for the pet to go.
If the animal is brought into the clinic, I usually handled pet euthanasia the following way. Veterinarians may have different approaches but I chose the way that was the most humane for the animal and less gut wrenching for the owner. One of the worst things to do, in front of the owner, is to administer the drug to the animal while it is wide awake. Unless the animal is moribund, that is a different story. Animals are intelligent creatures and know what is happening. They also pick up on the upsetting cues from their owner. They often struggle. This is bad news and makes the whole experience worse on everyone.
In my Ohio practice, I tranquilized most patients before administering the drug; which is an overdose of pentobarbital. Tranquilizing the animal puts it in a relaxed state and easier for the owner to deal with. Leaving the owner and the pet alone in the exam room allows the person to hold, caress or stroke their pet before I come in. I allowed them to take all the time in the world. Some take the collar off the animal, some clip hair as a momento and some just sit and cry.
Prior to pet euthanasia, I prefer to put a small intravenous catheter in the front leg so that it is easier to administer the drug when with the owner. The effect of pentobarbital is extremely quick. The dog or cat is usually gone before I finish injecting the drug. The heart is than auscultated to make sure there is no activity.
Owners often want to spend time with the deceased after pet euthanasia has been completed. Again, I allow them all the time they wish. It is better to decide what to do with the remains before the procedure rather than after. Some people want to take the pet home and bury it on their property. That is fine but make sure you check with any local regulations that might prohibit that.
Now a days, it is common to offer cremation services. Owners can have their pet cremated with other animals or a private cremation with ashes returned to the client. A lot of my clients chose beautiful wooden urns to take home the ashes of their pet. What people did with the ashes is just as different as people are. Some kept the ashes on a fireplace mantle with a picture of the pet in the front. Others buried the container and if they moved, they could take the container with them to a new home. A common thought was scattering the ashes at a pets favorite beach by the waters edge or in places where the owner and the pet spent hours of their time together. These acts are moments of comfort even in the face of death. Peace.
It is always important to talk through difficulties in your life. Having a beloved family member put down is definitely one of those. Before you look into personal support take care of any other pets you may have at home. They also lost a friend. They may urinate in the house, pace the home or spend hours looking for their friend that is never to be found. Spend extra time with the animal. Maybe, get it some ice cream or a treat it usually loves. I do not know what goes on inside an animal’s head, as they can not speak, but most pets do recover over time.
Support groups are great for difficulties like this. I recommend that you take a look at The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB). They offer articles on support for all species of animals and their is an online chat room for talking one to one. I highly recommend it.
From my experience, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many people literally swear to me that they will never have another pet again. They could not go through “this” again. I respect and totally understand those feelings. Deep down, I know that 9 out of 10 people will own another pet within a year. Some people find one that same day, for others a new pet finds them! This brings happiness to me. The cycle of life starts over again. There will always be memories but nothing can destroy the human-animal bonds of love and companionship.