This article was originally posted in Nutricula Magazine, on August 25th, 2013
Al Plechner, DVM and Bob Berger, MS, MVSc, PhD
Euthanasia…when is it time? This is such a difficult subject to bridge…there are so many questions to ask! When has the time arrived, and when must this procedure be considered?
I do not have all the answers, but I do know when the recommendation needs to be made even though it is difficult for the owner and his or her veterinarian. I am glad that we as veterinarians have the right to “help our pets humanely transcend with dignity without suffering”.
Indications will be when your beloved pet goes from “Living to Existing”. This will be the time to respect the needs of your pet and help him/her to “transcend”. We as veterinarians can also advise you if it is time for this procedure.
Life is very precious. For our pets to not be able to live life to its fullest and only experience feelings of deterioration and suffering, it is only appropriate for we humans to understand that, when the time comes, we must help them to transcend peacefully and without suffering. When the time has arrived you must think only about your pet and not about yourself.
You need to remember the happy years your pet gave to you and respect your pet in his/her final hours…although it’s horribly emotional to do.
Often, you want to be with your pet when the euthanasia is performed. However, what you need to remember is that your pet will only sense your grief, and that this grief will only make the procedure more frightening for him or her, even though you “mean well”.
If the owner or owners still insist on being present during the actual euthanasia procedure, in order to lessen their negative impact upon the pet, I will ask the pet owner if I may give their pet a tranquilizer ahead of time. If this meets with the owner’s approval, I will give my patient a large dose of tranquilizer, and have the owner or owners spend 10-15 minutes with their pet, until he/she is completely tranquilized. I suggest that after the tranquilizer has taken effect this may be the best time for the owners to leave the room. They can now remember their pet as he or she would like to be remembered…as a wonderful family member, full of health and vitality, and not in a failing state.
Just so you know what my feelings are, you also need to realize that I am about prevention, and after helping a patient live for many years, and then having to help them transcend, is very difficult for me. I will hold back my emotions in front of the owners (who are most probably trying their best to do the same thing), but after I excuse myself, I find a private place where I can now experience my grief without others seeing me.
No, I will never get used to doing this procedure when my mission in life is only to heal my patient. However, I do feel by helping my patient transcend and avoiding his/her ongoing suffering is really a blessing.
When I was in veterinary practice in California, I would never charge a fee for euthanasia. I would rather see that this money go towards purchasing another pet. I would however send in a donation to the “Tree People” here in California, in order to plant a tree for that animal in his or her name in a State or National forest. (In Asia, when a child is born or when an old person dies, a tree is planted in their name. This gives the family a chance, one day, to walk through the forest of their loved ones.)
The hardest thing, but the best thing, to do, after your pet has transcended, is to adopt another dog, cat, puppy or kitten. But what you really need to realize is that your deceased pet would want you to do this in spite of your present feelings. You would not just be replacing your pet, but in your “pet- friendly” home, you would be doing your part in helping to avoid having homeless, innocent animals put to sleep every day because of over-population and lack of finances…this kind of thinking is very important, especially in these modern and stressful times, as we are seeing so many precious animals/pets taken to the animal shelters because their owners cannot feed them, much less themselves or their family.
The Rescue Groups are doing everything they can do to save these innocent animals and place them in wonderful homes, but many of their rescues are being returned because people are losing their jobs, as well as their homes, and can no longer take care of their beloved pet.
Not only do we need to make the difference for these animals, but we also need to fulfill the new, hard felt vacancy in our home, now without a pet.
Please trust me when I tell you that we will never again be able to experience the joy that a pet will give to you…unconditional love and loyalty. The memory of your transcended pet will always be there in your heart, but the “tincture of time” will help you to move on.
How I overcame the difficulty and the sorrow of euthanasia-
Not to merely repeat the words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Al Plechner, I would just say, “ditto” to all that he has expressed thus far.
As for me, being an “over-the-top” animal lover, not only of our domestic dogs, cats, etc., but of all living creatures of the “non-human” world, I believe that our pets (as well as all animals), are a gift to humanity. Taking the much used quote; “If you want a friend, get a dog“, speaks volumes as to how most people view not only their own pets, but how they view most animals in general. An animal is a more loyal friend than most humans are..and the love and friendship of a pet is unique and unconditional.
I have never buried a pet (that belonged solely to me), who died or that I had to euthanize, in a pet cemetery; they have all been cremated and I have beautiful urns for each of them which contain their ashes. I keep these urns, with my pet’s names and inscriptions, in a special place my house. By doing this, I am comforted to know that some physical part (although they are just ashes), of my best friends will always be with there with me.
Although I don’t want to present myself as one who takes a misanthropic approach to humans in general, I truly believe that animals, (in general), have better souls than most people…this view I would adamantly stand by.
An animal doesn’t pathologically lie. There are no canine serial killers, no feline “Ponzi-schemers”, nor any corrupt equine fund managers. A gecko (the lizard), isn’t Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gekko, the greedy, unscrupulous Wall Street [inside] trader, and a wolf, although potentially dangerous due to its genetically-imprinted “pack mentality”, does not possess the Charlie Manson “family-pack” mentality. This is why I love all animals. I truly believe that they are put on earth to make it a better place…unfortunately with many humans-not so much!
As far as euthanasia…absolutely yes, when there is no other way, when all hope of making our beloved pet’s life any better is gone, and when there is only suffering in his or her future. Although this is easier said than done, we must always realize that this is about our pets (our best friends), and not about us. Unfortunately, we, many times, even subconsciously, make this about us. For example, we frequently say (or at least think); “I don’t know how I am going to face doing this!” There really shouldn’t be an “I” here.
I know what I am writing about because I had been one of the very worst offenders of this…that is, bargaining with myself (and my vet), to keep my best friend alive…for just one more month, one more week, one more day…and then afterwards, I always had a feeling of guilt as I questioned (myself), if there was anything I could have done differently that could have prolonged my dog’s life that I wasn’t aware of or that I somehow missed. I did this with Andy, my wonderful Beagle-Shepherd mix rescue, who had Mast Cell tumor metastasis after 2 years that spread to his liver, and with Tova, my beautiful Chow-mix ,who had osteosarcoma in the front left shoulder and upper leg, that after almost a year of palliative therapy, I finally had to euthanize her only after she had literally lost most of that leg to gangrene…I would never wait like this again, but I just couldn’t bear to lose them. Both of my best friends were 13+ years old and had lived great and wonderful lives. But now I realize that I waited too long to euthanize them, all because I put “I” into the equation without ever really meaning to.
Now I will always do things differently because I know the right thing to do is to put my best friend first, let him/her transcend peacefully…and anyway, I know that we will all meet again someday under the “Rainbow Bridge”.
The “Rainbow Bridge” is where all pets eventually go where everything is bright, happy and peaceful…we can be with our pets and maybe even our true friends there…a place where the evil folks will never be admitted.
I do hope this article helps when the time comes to help your pet transcend and pass through the gates of the “Rainbow Bridge”.