When you have to let go of an ailing pet, it can be as traumatic and lasting as the loss of a human friend or family member. Sometimes you have to make a choice about euthanasia – and it is never an easy decision.
“As a pet owner it is important to know that how and when you elect for humane euthanasia is completely your decision,” says Dr. Amy Kranch of Encanto Pet Clinic in Tucson. “Euthanasia is warranted in a patient whose quality of life is poor and there is no possibility of his quality of life improving with medical intervention. It is also warranted if the medical intervention is cost prohibitive for the owner and there is no reasonable chance for return of quality of life without this intervention.”
In our last post, we discussed the questions you should ask yourself before making this decision. “Your veterinarian is a great resource when making an end of life decision. They cannot make the choice for you, but they can guide you through this difficult time,” says Dr. Kranch.
Although no two euthanasias are exactly the same, Dr. Kranch says that in-hospital services do have some guidelines, and require a signature authorizing the euthanasia. Your doctor is available to answer any last minute questions you may have, and usually will administer a sedative to your pet to help relieve any discomfort or stress. “The decision to be, or not to be, present for a euthanasia is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong answer. If you are uncomfortable being there let your veterinary team know,” says Dr. Kranch. Also, talk to the Encanto Pet Clinic staff about bringing family members or other pets to the clinic to be present during euthanasia.
When Encanto Pet Clinic client Kathy Burke realized it was time to say goodbye to Travis, she chose to bring his friend Harley along. “We were able to euthanize our cat Kallie at home, so Harley and Travis could be there and ‘know’ what was happening,” says Burke. “Harley is an experienced therapy dog, and he went right into his work mode, walking from person to person, licking away tears and nuzzling us. Travis didn’t want to be in the room with us, and he stayed in the other room. Part of me wonders now if he didn’t have some sense that he was next. When his time came, we had hoped we could euthanize him at home, but knowing that his veins were hard to find, we didn’t want to take any chances, so we brought him to Encanto. Harley came along and was in the room with us, again checking on each of us who were sitting around Travis and crying.”
Once a pet is sedated, an IV catheter is placed in the one of his veins. When you are ready, the doctor will give the pet an injection of medication, which will stop heart and brain functions. The process usually only takes a few minutes. The doctor will then listen for heart sounds with a stethoscope to make sure your pet is deceased.
After the euthanasia, you can take your pet home for a more personal burial. Or the staff at Encanto Pet Clinic can suggest options for burial or cremation that can be handled through the clinic.
Many pet owners choose to have their pets cremated, but want to do more to remember their pet. Dr. Joanne Lefebvre of Hayley’s Angels offers a selection of urns on her website, as well as fusion glass memorials and pendants, made by a veterinarian in Sedona, Arizona. Glass Fire Designs also creates memorial jewelry using the ashes of pets.
Is It Normal to Grieve?
Grieving after the loss of a pet is normal, explains Dr. Kranch. “This pet was a family member and will be missed – and grieving takes time. There are numerous resources including pet loss support lines, pet loss support groups, and books that may help you through this time.”
Burke explains that grief and sadness can surprise you, even long after that final goodbye. “No matter how prepared you are for the loss, there will still be moments that bring tears to your eyes. For me, one of those moments was putting the last load of Travis’ diapers and pads into the washing machine the day he died. We had been washing almost a load per day for weeks (maybe months) and I felt a mixture of relief and sadness that I wouldn’t have to do that any more.”
But there are also sweet moments of nostalgia. “The weekend after [Travis’] blindness was confirmed and diagnosed, we went for a family hike up at Mt. Lemmon. Knowing that he couldn’t see, we chose to walk along the road instead of on a trail, but Travis was having none of that! There was a stream that ran alongside the road, and he followed the sounds and smells of that stream and pulled me right to it. He just marched right through the water, crossing over and back several times. There were tons of small butterflies around that day, and they seemed to be drawn to him. I scattered his ashes in that stream after he died, and to this day, when we’re walking Harley and Helen and we see butterflies, we smile and say ‘hi Trav!’”
Helen became a member of Burke’s family after Travis passed away. “The question of when (or IF) to get another pet is a very personal decision, one that depends on your own family or pack situation,” says Burke. “After we let Travis go, it was our other dog, Harley, who made it clear that he was ready for another dog. He had never been an ‘only animal’ in the house, having lived with a senior cat for several years, then with Kallie and Travis, so he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. We said goodbye to Travis on a Saturday, and by Wednesday, I knew Harley was ready. I started looking online at adoptable dogs, and on Saturday, he helped us select Helen. One week to the day! I’m sure some of our friends thought we were rushing it, but it was the right decision for our pack.”
Grief is not uniform. The decision to or to not adopt another pet is very personal. “You must consider if you are emotionally, physically, and financially ready to bring another pet into your life. You must also consider your entire family and if they are ready for a new pet when making this decision,” says Dr. Kranch. “Remember you are not replacing your previous pet. You are making room in your home for a different animal to love.”
Be gentle with yourself, says Burke, and be willing to accept help from others. “Seek the comfort and understanding of people who have lost pets, especially those who won’t try to tell you to ‘get over it, it was just a dog!’ Trust yourself to know when or if the time is right for you to bring another pet into your life. When I first got him, Travis walked through the “Pete-shaped” hole in my heart, and Helen walked through the “Travis-shaped” hole. Each of my pets has opened my heart wider and wider to receive their unconditional love. What a tremendous gift!”