By Dr. Amy Sugar:
As veterinary professionals, we are privileged to provide our patients with one final service — ending their suffering through euthanasia. We also have the opportunity to honour the human-animal bond by recognizing the impact of the patient’s relationship with the family. It is a final gift we can give our patients — caring for the family that has loved them for their lifetime. We have many factors to consider. Most importantly we need to prioritize the comfort of the pet, we strive to provide a peaceful, serene experience for the pet’s family and finally we need to consider support for the veterinary team. Many teams find it helpful to have a ‘ready to go’ compassionate care basket. Being prepared can ease everyone’s stress and ensure the euthanasia goes as smoothly as possible. I hope some of the following ideas for a ‘compassionate care basket’ can serve as a starting point for you and your team to build on.
Decide on the items you will need and keep a list for easy refill, so an assistant can have it ready for you at any time. You can ‘customize’ the basket to each euthanasia or have some pre-planned baskets, for example, families with children, pet gender specific, and seniors clients. Of course now COVID safety protocols are crucial so there will be some modifications to consider as well.
Prepare a euthanasia basket with some of the following suggested items. Choose a container that is visually appealing, easily carried and appropriately sized. During the pandemic, you may chose to use a container that you can thoroughly sanitize after use.
- Tissues – Travel packs are nice, as clients can hold the pack in their hand and have it even when they leave the clinic. This is also more sanitary during the pandemic. If you use boxes of tissue in the room, ensure they are not moved or emptied before someone has replaced them. Feedback from many clients in grief sessions has taught me that good quality tissues matter!
- Bottles of water – People’s mouths become dry and they become dehydrated from crying. Drinking water can also provide a brief moment of pause and reset.
- Pouches or special containers – These can be used for fur clipping keepsakes or to place collar/ tags for the family to keep.
- Hand sanitizer or wipes – This is especially important if the room does not have a sink.
- Special blankets – These should be specifically set aside for this sensitive procedure. Ensure the blankets are soft, and clean with no stains or tears. Keep extra covers handy so it can easily and discretely be replaced if becomes soiled. Some people like a gender specific pink or blue but neutral is good too. Be cognizant of colour, many people do not like to see red coverings.
- Pet Loss books for Children – Having these ready for the family to take home is important. Giving a list of children’s books often creates more ‘things to do’ for parents already coping with so much. Ideally, I like to give resources to parents prior to euthanasia so they can prepare for questions and how to discuss death based on developmental stage.
- Preparing to say goodbye brochure or information – This should ideally be given prior so clients are already prepared. However, if this is not the case, including a simple information sheet within the basket can be helpful. An electronic version to email during end of life discussions is valuable especially during the pandemic.
- Small or LED candle – This can set a peaceful scene turning a ‘sterile’ exam room into something more special and creating a positive final memory.
- Door hanger – This can be placed on door knob to signal while the family is finished with their final goodbye and visitation. This prevents interruption by staff and also ensures the family can provide a signal when they are ready to leave. Consider a laminated hanger so it can be disinfected.
- Clay or impression materials – This is nice to have on hand if client chooses a clay or ink paw print impression keepsake.
In the veterinary profession, we often deal with people in their worst emotional state. Taking time to ensure the best ending for the patient’s life will not only show the client how much we value the bond they have with their pet, this will also support veterinarians with the emotional challenges faced during euthanasia.
Dr. Amy Sugar, BSc, D.V.M, is a Certified Pet Loss & Bereavement Counselor practicing veterinary medicine in Canada. Throughout her years working as a small animal veterinarian, it has been her honour to support many families coping with the loss of their beloved pets. Dr. Sugar’s company, Pawsitive Resources, includes a variety of sympathy products and grief resources available to the veterinary profession across Canada & the United States.