Teaching About Pet Euthanasia Takes Love and Passion

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This week, the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy (CAETA) is adding more Instructors to our team.  Over the past few months, growing our speaker bureau has been a priority, as we prepare for expansion into new markets that need our type of content.  In the spirit of providing a strong start, I want to share what’s been learned by those of us already teaching euthanasia best practices.  Whether you are interested in working with us to train veterinarians, veterinary technicians, support staff and students, or working on your own to spread the message that ‘Endings Matter’, I trust that learning tips for teaching is always welcomed.

For me, teaching has always been part of my role as a veterinarian.  Veterinarians are part healer and part educator.  Technicians may be even more so, being routinely tasked with informing pet owners about treatment plans, drug side effects, and post-op recovery. Whatever the professional role, education for those willing to listen leads to better outcomes.  While I remain a practicing veterinarian in Loveland, Colorado, my educational goals these days focus on veterinary colleagues wanting to learn about good death.  The ‘why’ behind it all is to protect the euthanasia experience for everyone involved; the pet patient, the owner/client, and veterinary team.  

Here are some favorite teaching tips related to pet euthanasia education…

  1. Start with basic concepts – your audience isn’t sure what to expect with a euthanasia talk. The sheer volume of information to learn about euthanasia, and what the Instructor would like to cover, can be overwhelming.  Ask yourself what 3-5 pearls you want the audience to walk away with; things that will immediately improve the experience.
  2. Be ready for questions – euthanasia is more complicated than people realize. The medical aspects are the core of the procedure, but layered around is communication, emotions, family involvement, business, etc. Teaching one component of euthanasia opens up questions about others.  Instructors find that leaving at least 15-20 minutes for questions is necessary.  I may offer even more if I’m giving only one lecture that day.  If I’m speaking multiple hours, I encourage people to attend those and get answers to their questions through the content.
  3. Lead with empathy – the more an Instructor knows about pet euthanasia, the more they can empathize with what it was like to not.  It’s hard to worry about the procedure, to feel unprepared with the best things to say to clients or the better drugs to use. Instructors who empathize with their audience will speak with greater honesty and love.  They have compassion (empathy in action) and use education to improve the situation.
  4. Share stories – an audience loves to hear a useful story.  Stories bring the teaching points to life, and they love to learn about successes and challenges.  They need to know what a bad euthanasia (dysthanasia) looks like as much as the good ones. I find it’s through storytelling that my passion for the work comes through.  They want to feel and understand your ‘heart’ for good death experiences.  For many, it’s what renews them in this work and keeps them going. Stories should culminate with a solid teachable moment.
  5. Listen for your next lesson – a skilled educator is listening to the audience.  They perceive what the audience wants to learn now but they also understand what the audience needs next time.  After 15 years as a formal educator, I’m still hearing new ideas come from the room and I quickly make a mental note.  Euthanasia education changes like anything else, due to new research, societal expectations, new drugs, etc. What questions couldn’t be answered, or were hard to answer?  What questions keep coming up?  This is what sparks new content and future education.

As the saying goes, love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life. For many of you, education is part of that secret sauce to a life well lived. CAETA is proud to offer euthanasia training and we feel gratitude for every day we get to do this work.  Want to offer your talents as part of our team?  Reach out to get started.

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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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