Euthanasia comes from the Greek language and translates as good or fortunate death. The definition is the act of ending the life or permitting the death of a hopelessly sick or injured animal in a painless way for reasons of mercy.
My first home euthanasia experience.
It was in 2001, with my first kitty love, named Bowser. I had gotten Bowser when I was an undergrad at UW Madison, and she had lived in 15 different places with me, from student housing in downtown Madison, to apartments in Arizona. She moved from Madison to Arizona, and back. She was with me when graduated from school the first time in 1986, she was with me when I got married and had a baby. My relationship with her was one of the reasons I decided I wanted to be a vet, and she was with me through 3 of my 4 years of veterinary school. Bowser was a kind, sweet, very friendly kitty – except when she was at the vet clinic. At the clinic she turned in to a ferocious tiger, all hissing and angry.
She started to go downhill when I was a 3rd year veterinary student, and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and kidney failure. I could no longer get her to take her medication, and she wasn’t doing very well. I felt alone, guilty, worried, scared and upset as I watched her feel worse every day, but I did not want to take her in to see the vet for her last moments. I felt so helpless as I watched her deteriorate. A wonderful technician at the vet school told me about a vet she knew that would make a home visit for euthanasia. It was a peaceful, gentle goodbye, she died purring in my arms. I felt it was the last gift I could give to her, to end her suffering and not make her go to the clinic she so disliked.
Components of a good death
I felt that my kitty Bowser had a good death. What is a good death? As a home euthanasia veterinarian, think about this daily, and I this is what I know:
- A good death involves understanding.
It is important for pet parents to understand what is happening with their pet. Understanding the pet’s medical condition, and treatment. Understanding what is possible medically and what is not possible. Understanding what the treatment plan is for their pet, what medications your pet is on, and when they need to be adjusted. Understanding that an expectation for a cure or a return to normal may not be possible.
- A good death involves working together.
Pet parents need to work together with their veterinarian to manage the pet’s condition, work with family members, pet caretakers- dog walkers, pet sitters, daycare providers to make sure everyone understands what is going on with their pet, and make sure that little problems or changes are communicated with everyone so a clear picture of the pet’s health is apparent to everyone.
- A good death involves a good quality of life.
This may seem contradictory but it is not. Knowing what constitutes a good quality of life for YOUR PET is extremely important. Every pet has different needs, wants, likes and dislikes. Some pets may love to chase a ball. While others love to nap on the couch. I have developed a QOL scale called Journeys that can help pet parents consider what is a good QOL for their pet. If you know what is good quality for your pet, it will help you recognize what is not a good quality of life, and help you make a difficult decision.
- A good death involves knowing your options for euthanasia and/or death. Your pet may pass peacefully at home, or they may come to the point where they have poor quality of life or are suffering – pain, difficulty breathing, seizures, and you may decide to have euthanasia performed. Gathering information about home euthanasia, and aftercare of your pet before the time comes can make this easier. Some things to consider – do you want your pet at home for euthanasia, or in a park, in the yard, or at some other comfortable location? Who wants to be there at the end – family, friends, someone who can support you? Can you reach everyone who wants to be there on short notice? Do you want to have a special ceremony afterwards? Coming to an agreement ahead of time can help you and your people work together to help your pet pass peacefully.
The Final Act of Caring, a Gift
We give our pets a gift when we put their needs ahead of our own. The gift of letting go seems to me to be in the timing. Our pets experience life differently than we do; they very much live in the moment. I think of how they experience life as how I did when I was little. Time passed more slowly, summer vacations seemed much longer, and Christmas and birthdays seemed much farther away. So when our pets are not feeling well, when they are nauseous, painful, it seems like it has been forever that they have felt this way. This is when we put aside our own needs to have our pet in our lives, we put aside our own guilt, we put aside our own grief in that decision to let go. Our pets have honored us with their UNCONDITIONAL LOVE and support. A peaceful death is our gift to them.