One of my patients this week was a lovely black lab mix named Indy who had reached the end of her journey with cancer. Her loving family chose to help end her suffering in the gentlest way they knew, with a home euthanasia. Her passing was peaceful and I could see that they were relieved to see her at rest.
Indy’s best friend at home was a healthy, beautiful setter named Bandit (pictured here). He was young and energetic and in the interest of helping Indy be as relaxed as possible, Bandit spent the appointment in another room. After Indy passed away, her owners wisely decided to give Bandit the opportunity to see her.
I strongly support allowing other pets in the household to be present during the appointment or to spend a few minutes with the deceased pet. Pets are then able to process the loss. It is one of the great benefits of home euthanasia appointments and does seem to help the grieving process, allowing pets to put to rest any mystery about what happened to their companion. They don’t linger over things too long. Most have a sniff or two and move on. They aren’t burdened with the thoughts of what loss means, as we often are.
Bandit was different. At first he did the usual sort of sniffing around and checking things out. He walked from one to the other of us, greeting us. He then cautiously sniffed Indy near her face and then a little near her elimination. That’s normal as many pets recognize indoor urination as unusual for their companions. He went back to her face and sniffed again, longer this time and tail nervously wagging.
Then he did something I’ve not observed before in my many experiences with pets at the time of loss. He pawed at her a bit. Then he lay down next to her with his face right next to hers. He made a quiet sound I can’t describe. He lay there, moments passing, while we watched, mesmerized. I couldn’t help wonder what thoughts were going through Bandit’s mind. I try not to attribute human emotions to pets – I feel I may interpret incorrectly and it seems unfair in some way to diminish the uniqueness of their experience in the world. But allowing my anthropomorphising-self to have a guess, I’d say he was confused. Where is she? Can I get her to wake up? After a few moments passed he got up and again made the rounds to each of us, licking tears and providing comfort (whether he meant to or not).
And then he was done. No more of those same behaviors around Indy. He walked around the room calmly and confidently and lay down, legs extended in the air, clearly asking for belly rubs.
Had he made sense of things, in his own way? I think so.