Travis took on life in a mellow and free-flowing way. The 13-year-old hound mix, a former shelter dog, moved from Tennessee to Tucson with Encanto Pet Clinic client Kathy Burke. Travis and Burke were a registered therapy team with Pet Partners, and Travis served as the “neutral dog” for many teams who tested in Tucson.
About 8 months after moving to Tucson, Travis unexpectedly became blind. He was found to have SARDS (sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome). Burke decided to have a senior blood panel done, and the results showed some abnormalities. They decided to do an ultrasound of his abdomen, and found a mass on his liver. Burke decided against surgery.
“I felt sad when Travis went blind, but he was so happy, and adapted to his blindness fairly easily, that it was hard to stay sad for long.” They learned how to communicate with each other on leash, so that Travis knew when to slow down and step up on curbs or steps.
“When I learned he most likely had cancer,” says Burke, “I felt some fear about what it would mean for him by choosing not to treat it with surgery. I definitely didn’t want to increase his suffering, but I also didn’t want to put him through the ordeal of surgery at his age. I felt sad but comfortable with the decision not to treat, and knew what to look for to gauge his comfort at home.”
Dr. Joanne Lefebvre, DVM is owner of Hayley’s Angels Veterinary Services and author of the book, Animal Teachings: from Hayley’s Angels Methods.” Since 2008 she has helped thousands of owners through the process of euthanasia.
Dr Lefebvre helped her own dog, Hayley, transition at home, by way of euthanasia. “Hayley was ready to be helped, and gave us the sign. She was extremely loyal, and we knew she would hang in there for us and sacrifice herself for us, so it was an act of kindness to free her from her suffering,” she says. Treatment was not an option, and she could not see her best friend suffer. She wanted Hayley to pass over with peace and dignity.
Just a few months later, she began to realize there was a need for this type of service after helping someone else say goodbye to the family pet at home. “After helping them, I strongly felt Hayley’s presence guiding me into starting a home euthanasia service. Having been in the situation myself, I do understand what others are going through.”
The resulting service, Hayley’s Angels Veterinary Services, specializes in home euthanasia, offering a peaceful, dignified passing that honors the animal and can help ease the grieving process of the owner. “We are home, in the most loving and comforting place,” explains Dr. Lefebvre. “We take our time, feed treats, there can be friends and family, people playing music and singing. We can be in the garden, in the bedroom, even in the closet or under the bed, wherever the animal is comfortable and feeling safe. Being at home allows us to personalize the procedure as much as possible so everyone can find peace and closure. Animals do let us know when they are ready to be helped.
The best time to help them is when their quality of life has decreased to an unacceptable level.” But how does a pet owner know when it is time? Dr. Lefebvre recommends an evaluation of the pet by a veterinarian.
She also suggests the pet owner and family members ask themselves these questions to determine quality of life:
- Is my pet in pain?
- Is he drinking and eating normally?
- Is he able to urinate and defecate without soiling himself?
- Is he doing his favorite things, like he used to do?
- Does he have enthusiasm or interest in toys, treats and family members?
- Is he able to go on walks, and get up without assistance?
- Is he having more bad days than good days?
- Is he trying to tell me, “I need your help. It is time. I can’t do this any longer.” Or “I am okay. I’d like to stay a little longer.
As a pet owner, Burke says, it is important to ask yourself if you are willing to euthanize when your pet needs it. She offers these questions to help make your decision:
- Are you willing to notice when your pet is giving you the signs and signals that he is ready to go?
- Do you want to have your pet euthanized in your home, or will you bring him to your vet’s office?
- Can you bring yourself to be there with him at the end, talking him through the process?
- Do you know what your burial or cremation options are? If your dog has a terminal condition, do you know what physiological signs and symptoms indicate that he is actively dying?
- Do you love him enough to let him go?
“Have a talk with your pet and tell him or her what is going on – pets feel our energies,” says Dr. Lefebvre. “Give your pet permission to let go…ask your pet to show you a clear sign of what he/she needs (which may lead to a drastic change in your pet’s behavior, helping you make a decision.) Take it one day at a time.”
The next question to ask is, “Will I feel at peace with my decision?” Dr, Lefebvre says that although the opinion of others may be helpful, trust your own heart and your inner feelings when making a decision regarding euthanasia.
For Burke, the time to say goodbye became clear. “Travis absolutely loved rawhide chews. He had been getting weaker from the tumor, but his appetite was still good and he enjoyed going for walks and relaxing with a rawhide. He would lie outside on a dog bed or even the sidewalk and just go to town on a rawhide chew. Even though they made for even messier accident clean-ups (Travis was incontinent of urine and occasionally feces and wore diapers most of the time after he was diagnosed) we openly acknowledged that if he happened to die while chewing on a rawhide, he would die happy. The Saturday morning that he awakened us at 5:30, then staggered outside unable to hold up his own weight to defecate, told us the time was getting close. When we offered him a rawhide chew a short time later and he turned it down, he was telling us the time was NOW. We made the call to Encanto and said good-bye to sweet Travis 3 hours later.”
It is important not only to allow the animal to communicate when it is time to say goodbye, but to honor it as quickly as possible and avoid unnecessary trauma. Dr. Lefebvre tries to be available on short notice for owners who feel their pet is ready to transition, or if the pet is asking for help, giving a clear sign that they are done fighting. She travels throughout southern Arizona to offer her services to pet owners.
“ I try to give everyone what they need, which can vary greatly from one person to the next. The more someone communicates his needs, his beliefs, the kind of ceremony he wants and his expectations, the better I can assist him in making these last moments as meaningful and peaceful as possible for him, his pet and the rest of the family members, humans and animals.”
Our staff and veterinarians at Encanto Pet Clinic are available to help determine your pet’s health and needs. In our next post, “What Happens After the Goodbyes?” we will take a look at burial and cremation options for your pet after euthanasia, and explore the grieving process.