Pet Euthanasia Work Has Ups and Downs

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Talk with anyone who performs euthanasia regularly and they’ll tell you the number one comment they hear from clients is “Your job must be really hard” or “I couldn’t do what you do”. Clients are gently sharing empathy with us and acknowledging what may be correct. It’s true euthanasia work has tough days. Watching people cry and seeing an animal take its last breath can be hard, not to mention the pressure that comes from trying to make euthanasia perfect. When there are no do-overs, every detail counts. But this work is extremely rewarding for those called to do it. The job is a fusion of challenge, contentment, uncertainty, joy, and always calls for a healthy dash of gratitude.

Clients are kind to acknowledge how tough euthanasia work can be. Most of us take it in stride and thank them for their kind words. My reply usually signifies acknowledgment of the hard days, but shifts the focus back to the family losing a beloved pet. “That’s very kind of you to say. There definitely are hard days, but you are the one with the hardest job of all; saying goodbye to a dear friend.” Clients really appreciate how their empathy gesture was received and how it reciprocates back to them. Shared empathy is very powerful and bonds vet professionals and clients together.

The ups and downs of pet euthanasia centers around the juxtaposition of doing sad but meaningful work. Some veterinary professionals really love to support clients during a time of great loss and transition like this; so much so that many devote their entire careers to it. For others, it’s a necessary part of the veterinary job they take very seriously but would prefer to avoid when possible. Regardless of the reasons behind the euthanasia, veterinary teams have to put on their emotional ‘apron’ to remain sustainable. No one wants to linger in down days. It takes attention to the Whys of the work to keep things in perspective and remind us of the good we can feel releasing a pet from suffering or distress. The downs are doable when we know the ups are around the corner. We are vulnerable to grief pile-up though when we don’t take the time to stop, reflect, honour, and support our own grief.

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Dr. Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CPEV, DACAW resident Founder, Senior Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy

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