Resisting Complacency in Euthanasia Work

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A colleague told me recently how frustrated she was when a client verbally lashed out at her following a dysthanasia (bad death experience). The client was upset with the dog’s negative reaction to the pre-euthanasia sedation injection and the vet’s apparent ‘non chalant’ attitude to the dog’s distress. Wanting to get the bigger picture, I asked the vet to tell me more about the appointment as a whole. Within no time at all, it became clear the vet did not see the dog’s negative reaction as any fault of her own; it was the client’s fault for not setting her up for more success. After listening a while longer, it became even more apparent some complacency had set in for this vet. I’ve known her for a long time and she didn’t start out this way. My impression was she wanted to get in and out of euthanasia appointments as fast as possible and had lost sight of the magnitude of what was taking place.

Complacency can happen to all of us. We find ourselves in the position of doing the same thing over and over again, in this case, the medical procedure of euthanasia. Many of us, veterinarians and technicians included, may be performing upwards of 20+ euthanasias a week. Similar situations, similar drug choices, and similar conversations. As powerful as the procedure is to those saying goodbye to a beloved pet, veterinary professionals have the potential to get stuck in a ‘euthanasia rut’ and struggle to look upon the event with a fresh compassionate pair of eyes.

Defined as self-satisfaction, those manifesting complacency become unaware of the lackadaisical approach they take to their work. Here are some situational examples of complacency in euthanasia work:

~It’s ok the dog cried out in pain during the injection. Many do.
~The client doesn’t need to be offered privacy afterwards. I’ve given them
enough time.
~The cat can be carried out in that old, soiled towel. No one will notice.
~The euthanasia area is noisy today, but no one has complained before so
it’s ok.
~I can tell by looking at the body that the heart has stopped so I don’t need
to listen with my stethoscope.

Complacency has a way of spreading throughout the team. One person demonstrates a ‘who cares’ attitude and before you know it, what was once an unacceptable way to care for the patient and client is now acceptable and commonplace. While it’s up to each and every one of us to monitor our actions for complacency, management must keep watch. With a basic yet impactful system of checks and balances in place, complacency can be reduced. The following are some ideas to strengthen your connection with the procedure.

  1. Hold weekly team meetings on euthanasia cases
    1. Hear positive feedback from others performing euthanasia
    2. Share passion for the work
    3. Fill out sympathy cards together and hear pet-centric stories
  2. Keep learning through euthanasia education
    1. Read up on new techniques and drug protocols
    2. Learn about current memorialization options
  3. Change up patterns before the appointment to keep things fresh
    1. Take a walk outside
    2. Gaze upon an image or video of the human-animal bond
    3. Love on another pet
    4. Meditate (yes you have time)
  4. Build rapport with the client
    1. Hear stories about the pet’s life
    2. Learn about the bond shared
    3. Slow down and engage more

The topic of complacency in our work is broad and complicated. CAETA encourages you to keep learning about better euthanasia practices and find ways to invigorate your mission. Your clients need you to be supportive, loving, and patient. If you feel yourself getting stale and rudderless around euthanasia, remember why you were called to this work. Ask for help from colleagues still energized and passionate, and get moving on some of the tips listed here. Those whom you serve will be grateful.

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Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CCFPFounder, Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy
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