In this second installment in a series, I am sharing some of my thoughts on euthanasia. My perspective comes from both sides of the exam table. I am a diehard animal lover as well as a veterinarian. In Part One of this series, I told the story of a client who asked, “What would you do if she were your dog?”
Ten days after that conversation, I was working on a Saturday morning. When I arrived at the clinic, I immediately checked the schedule. My last appointment of the morning was to help this sweet old pup cross the Rainbow Bridge. This is never an easy situation. My boyfriend Alan will tell you how many times I have spent hours processing these emotional office calls after I get off work. They hit home for me on many levels. I know what my clients are feeling. I feel it with them…
On that particular morning, Daisy was accompanied by both of her parents. They were as prepared as anyone can be but no one is ever really prepared. They told me their children were struggling with the decision. Nevertheless, the parents knew it was time. My usual procedure is to inject our standard pre-anesthetic sedative in a rear leg. One quick stick and that is the only stress the pet experiences. After that, they slowly drift off to sleep as if for a surgical procedure. When they are relaxed and anesthetized, I administer the final injection. Depending on the size of the animal, I may use a butterfly catheter. Regardless of how I actually administer the drug, the patient is blissfully unaware. Daisy peacefully crossed the bridge.
This beloved pooch was the same age as their oldest child. Her parents’ comments about their children’s reactions brought back a difficult memory for me. I, too, grew up with the family dog. Her name was Cindy, and we were “pups” together. When I was 16, she was 16. Years after our neighborhood grew up and the families dispersed, we would gather periodically to reminisce. Everyone always commented on how they remembered watching Cindy pull me down the sidewalk on my skateboard! We were inseparable.
I remember coming home from school one day to find her wandering in circles in our garage. Although I had a learner’s permit driver’s license, I wasn’t legal to drive alone. I thought about it though! Nevertheless, I called a neighbor and he drove Cindy and me to the vet. She had had a stroke. For the most part, she recovered from that.
However, she was an old dog with many infirmities. I don’t remember any conversations with my parents about what options we had. That doesn’t mean they didn’t occur, but I don’t remember any. One day I came home from school almost at dinner time. Suddenly, I noticed Cindy was not in her usual spot. My parents walked me to the backyard and pointed to where she was buried! They hadn’t TOLD me about their plans! I was furious! I’d like to believe my mom didn’t tell me because she thought it was best for me, but I really think she did it because it was best for her. That incident occurred over four decades ago. Can you tell how much impact it had on me?
This has to be a family decision. End of life discussions must include the children. I believe this process is the last act of kindness we can offer our beloved pets. That is what I tell the adults, and children can understand that concept as well. We are the stewards of our animal companions. We are responsible for their health and well-being. The decisions we make should be with their best interests in mind, not necessarily ours…
Part Three in this series will share additional pearls of wisdom I have learned or experienced about this difficult decision.