Euthanasia; It’s a Privilege

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A veterinarian describes why it is a privilege to participate in pet euthanasia and how it helps to restore dignity during a difficult time.

Author: Dr. Enid Stiles (graduate of the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy)

Editor: Dr. Kathleen Cooney

I consider my time as a veterinarian a privilege. And the reason why is simple, and yet for some people, it may seem odd. I hear myself and my colleagues using words with clients like ‘it is our duty’, ‘we are always considering the welfare of the patient’, ‘we have an obligation to ensure the best treatment possible’, and so on. And these words are so very true and make our profession so very difficult at times.

What a privilege assisting with euthanasia can be, to be there for your clients, your friends, your family at those difficult moments. I thank those people for giving me the opportunity to join them in such a personal and difficult time. I thank them for feeling they can cry or scream, or be unable to stay because the pain is simply too much. I thank them for understanding that this is a gift we are giving their family member.  It is selfless.  What other gift do we ever give where so much personal pain is felt.

Many of you have seen me cry. Some days are worse than others. I am not crying because we are euthanizing your 4 legged friend, as I know this is the best thing for him or her. We owe them a death with dignity. No, I am crying because of the beauty that is your relationship. That bond that people have with their pets. How deeply rooted it is. How that relationship may signify so many things I will never be privy to…. Perhaps your dog was there during a difficult split-up, or stayed by your side when you lost your mother. Maybe your cat was your only companion when you moved out of a family home for the first time. Perhaps you are crying more now than when your grandfather died, and you do not understand why, but believe me, you are not alone. Perhaps this is your last cat, as you will be going into a care facility that will not allow pets. Perhaps this was your daughter’s dog and she has left for college….Perhaps…..

Sometimes I know the stories because they are told during regular visits. Sometimes people want to talk about these relationships in those final moments. We can laugh as we embrace all of the funny and silly things our pets have done. In some euthanasias, I know and hear nothing, but the relationship is clear; the way they hold their cat or touch his paw, the words they use to say goodbye, the way the dog looked at them and would not stop looking….

The message I have learned from my patients over the years is to take a moment of pause; to reflect on the importance of the experience. And during my veterinary education, including euthanasia training, I learned to deeply explore the client/patient relationship.  I was taught to ask the questions… “Have I asked my patient if they are ready?”,  “Do I have their permission to proceed?”  This life has importance on this earth and asking the right questions elevates the meaningful nature of the experience. With so much focus on the ones left behind, it moves attention back to the patient. So for every euthanasia, in silence, I ask the beloved animal these questions before I begin the euthanasia.  They have earned it and they will be so missed.

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