What to Expect During the Euthanasia Appointment

 We often hear questions about what to expect during a home euthanasia appointment. It can be helpful to know how this appointment may be different than visits you have made to the veterinary office with a pet at the end of life. After almost 11 years of working with pets and families, we understand what works best to bring comfort to the pet and people who are present in the home. Following is a general description of what you can expect during the appointment.  Within this framework, we welcome special arrangements such as prayer, silence, music, poetry or anything that brings you comfort.

Appointment process

After arriving at your home, our veterinarian will want to meet your pet and spend a few minutes discussing their condition. We administer a small sedative injection to help relieve pain and discomfort, as well as to help your pet relax. After about 5-15 minutes,  your pet will be comfortable and very relaxed and sleepy.  At that time the doctor will administer the second injection into a vein to help your pet pass away.  The medication first brings about complete unconsciousness, then the heart will slow and stop. This usually occurs within a few minutes or so. As far as we are able to determine, the pet does not experience discomfort with this second injection. They are very sleepy and seem unaware of what is happening.  Following this medication, our doctor will very carefully listen for heart sounds with a stethoscope to confirm that your pet has passed away. We will be happy to make a paw print impression in clay if you wish to have one. All together we plan 45-60 minutes for the appointment.

Payment and paperwork

There is minimal paperwork before your visit. We will send you a confirmation email with an electronic consent form attached. You will be able to keep a copy of this form electronically, and that is the only paperwork necessary. In addition, many clients prefer to prepay for their visit so that they don’t need to discuss payment during the visit. If you would like to prepay, you may do so while you are scheduling your visit, either over the phone with our support specialists or by using the link provided in your confirmation email. If you prefer to pay the doctor in the home, you can pay with a check made out to MN Pets or with cash. Our doctors carry very little change, so it is best to plan to have the exact amount of cash. We also accept Care Credit, which can be processed over the phone with a support specialist before your visit. Our goal is to keep paperwork to a minimum so that you can focus on your pet.

Setting

Any room in your home is usually fine for the appointment.  We often visit pets who are most comfortable on their bed or on the sofa.  The floor is also good for some dogs.  Our doctors are comfortable working anywhere there is space to gather around the pet.  It is wonderful to be outside when the weather cooperates. If the doctor will be transporting your pet for cremation, consider having the visit in a location that will allow for an easier and unobstructed exit. For example, the main floor of your home or in a room nearest to your entryway may be best. This will ensure that your pet can be carried out of your home safely and peacefully.

Cleanliness

Our doctors bring everything needed to keep the area clean and dry.  There is no need to prepare anything special in your home.

Dehydration

We are experienced and comfortable working with elderly pets, many of whom may be experiencing dehydration. Our doctors are comfortable administering medications under these circumstances and are equipped to handle situations that occasionally arise where a vein is difficult to access.

Eating

Your pet can follow a regular routine for eating and drinking on the day of the appointment. They may also take any medications as needed for pain, for example.  We recommend avoiding a heavy meal or a large number of treats just prior to the appointment, to help avoid upset stomach after the sedative has been administered.  It is a good idea to save some of your best dog treats for when the doctor arrives so administering the sedative is a little less noticeable for your dog.  Treats are a wonderful distraction.

Video/Audio recording and photos

MN Pets does not allow video or audio recording of home euthanasia visits, and we request that photos are not taken of our doctors. We value the privacy of our veterinarians and the assurance that photo and video content from pet euthanasia will not appear online due to its sensitive nature. Video-calling with friends or family members is permitted. Photographs of your pet and your family are welcomed, with the request to avoid including the veterinarian in any images. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Transport

We take great care in making sure your pet is handled with care and dignity after death. If our doctor is arranging cremation services, your pet will be comfortably transported in a blanket with the possible additional use of a bin or stretcher for added security in the vehicle. For pets over 40 pounds, our doctor will need assistance from one other person to help carry your pet to their vehicle. Please consider the path that doctor will need to take with your pet back to her vehicle and help ensure that it is cleared of obstructions.

Unusual Circumstances

Variations from the usual process aren’t uncommon.  Most often this is due to the pet’s disease or body condition, or the way the pet’s body responds to the medications given. Our doctors occasionally make a decision to vary their plan slightly, both to ensure the best experience for you and the most peaceful and comfortable experience for your pet. Our training and years of experience with helping pets at the end of life helps us to know what’s best to do in any situation to help the process proceed smoothly.  If you have questions about something that is happening at any moment, don’t hesitate to ask the doctor to explain. Our goal is to keep everyone informed as much as they would like to be throughout our visit.

Weather and Travel

In the case of inclement weather, such as a severe winter storm, our support team will be in contact with you as soon as possible to update you on the doctor’s arrival window and any necessary schedule adjustments. We will do everything that we can to help you at your scheduled time; however, in order to keep our doctor safe when road conditions are poor, we ask for your flexibility and understanding in scheduling.  While rare, in cases of a MnDOT issued No Travel Advisory, MN Pets will temporarily cease visits for safety reasons and our support team will be in contact with you as soon as possible to reschedule for a safer time or day.

Questions or Requests

If you have any questions about this information or something we haven’t addressed, feel free to contact our support team at (612) 354-8500 or speak with the doctor during the appointment.

For more information about the medications used during our visit, read Medications We Use.

Posted in End-of-life decisions, Preparing for your pet's appointment | 6 Comments

What our pets teach us about…Loyalty

Roselle was a special girl. She was of course pretty (is there any dog that isn’t?), and she was of course the sweetest girl that ever was. Roselle was a lab, after all. She had a heart of gold, and the purest soul, as labs tend to have. But there was something even more special about Roselle. She had a job, and a very important one. She was her owner’s eyes: his guide dog. And neither she nor her owner could ever have imagined just how important her job was going to be.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Roselle and her person, Michael Hingson, set off for work, as they did every day. She guided his way to Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, and up to the 78th floor, where he was a computer salesman.  She was sleeping under Michael’s desk when the plane hit. The BOOM sounded, and felt, like an explosion. It caused the entire building to tilt. Chaos erupted.

Sweet Roselle, though very brave, had one fear in life: thunderstorms. The noise terrified her. Yet on this morning, what should have been the most terrifying day of her life, Roselle remained perfectly calm. Through chaos, confusion, and deafening noise, Roselle did her job. She led Michael to the stairway, and they slowly began their descent, one floor at a time. The journey was arduous, and hot, and filled with noxious fumes. But on and on Roselle went, faithfully guiding her person, along with 30 others, down every single floor. Once they made it safely outside, Tower 2 collapsed. A massive cloud of dust engulfed them. Smoke and debris flew all around them, even hitting Roselle. But nothing shook her devotion to her man.  Michael tells their remarkable story in his book, Thunder Dog.  In it, he states that   “Roselle’s guide dog training could never have prepared her for anything like this, but she is brave and she does not quit; instead, she uses whatever senses she can to watch out for me.”

Though her very life was at risk, she would not abandon her job. Not only would she not leave Michael’s side, in the midst of noise, screaming, confusion, danger, and chaos, but with great bravery, and with complete disregard for her own fears, she guided him through the destruction. She saved Michael and 30 others, guiding them safely and fearlessly through one of the most terrifying events in our nation’s history.

Our pets teach us many, many things in their short lives, and one of the greatest lessons they teach us is loyalty.

The most common definitions of loyalty involve the words “allegiance,” “support,” “faithfulness,” “commitment,” and “duty.” We humans often struggle with the virtue of loyalty. Our complicated emotions, sticky agendas, and selfishness often get in the way of our aims to show loyalty to those in our lives. But for our furry friends, loyalty seems to be unavoidable, intrinsic in their character. As if they can’t help but devote their lives to ours. As if they exist to “be” and “do” with us, always.

Science, and more specifically, genetics, would suggest that they truly can’t help it. Dogs, descended from wolves, are pack animals. They are highly social, and develop deep bonds and deep allegiance to those in their pack.  Loyalty is truly a part of their genetic makeup.

And though loyalty isn’t necessarily the first word that one would choose to describe your typical house cat, the truth is, cats develop profound loyalty to their loved ones, too. Though they are descended from highly independent wild cats, our house cats exhibit very deep, powerful bonds with their humans- bonds that rival those of dogs (Cat owners are perhaps better able to understand this- house cats sure do get a bad wrap sometimes!)

Roselle and her heroic deeds are just one example of countless pets who have exhibited unshakable and brave loyalty. But our pets’ loyalty isn’t always shown through news-worthy acts of heroism. For many of us, the way our pets show their loyalty may not make the front page of The New York Times, but it is no less heroic. They lay by our side through the night. When we wake, they wake (well, sometimes, when THEY wake, WE wake). Regardless, our day begins together, and with a tail wag or a purr,  they set out to spend the day in our presence.

They accompany us everywhere, no matter how mundane (or private…) the task. They are there in our joy, wagging along with our laughter. They are there in our anger, earnest to make things right. They are there in our sorrow, laying their head in our lap when we cry, perhaps offering a kiss, or a paw, or a slobbery toy.  And most commonly for many of us, they are there in our boredom. Our daily lives are often repetitious, unexciting, mundane. And still they are there, through every boring moment. But that loyalty IS heroic. That loyalty serves just as much to prove our pets’ devotion to us. Through every moment, thrilling or dull, they walk with us in stride, as if it were not the event that dictated their happiness, but merely the fact that every moment is spent with us.

Our pets lives, though far too short, teach us lessons we may not otherwise learn in our entire lifetimes. As Roselle proved, and as all our pets prove, there is no greater example of loyalty on this earth than the furry one who always laid at our feet.

For more on Michael and Roselle’s story, check out Michael’s incredible book, Thunder Dog: the true story of a blind man, his guide dog, and the triumph of trust.

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Phantom Sounds

The jingling of a collar on a wiggly, happy body.

The scrape and click of excited little claws on a hardwood floor.

The low, soft rumble of a kitty who could not be more content.

These sounds are the music of an animal household. The soundtrack of life with a pet. From sweet, sweet purrs, to earsplitting, booming barks, to the maddening sound of your pet licking itself in the middle of the night. Quite often we aren’t even aware of just how much noise our pets make. In the mundane routine of life, we don’t always pay attention to the steady, happy panting. Or gentle footsteps on soft carpet. Or the rhythmic thud of a joyful tail against the floor. These things so often become a part of the background noise. It’s almost as if they become a part of the silence.

Yet inevitably, there comes a point in the life of a pet owner when that silence suddenly becomes much quieter. The sad day when we must say goodbye to that important family member, and all at once, that furry soundtrack is gone. It is then when we realize just how constant those sweet sounds were. And just how silent silence can be.

However, for some pet owners, those sounds do not stop. In the quiet of the night comes that sweet, rumbly purr, as if it were never gone. As if our sweet kitty were there, peacefully sleeping with us once again.

Or perhaps on a quiet afternoon, we hear the gentle scrape of little clawed feet ambling down the hall.

Maybe we hear the noisy slop of an eager tongue in a water dish.

Maybe we hear the jangle of a collar being kicked around by a paw, continuing on its quest to find the ever-elusive center of the itchy spot.

Maybe in the stillness of the night, we hear the low, slow, breathing of a deep slumber.

Maybe we said goodbye yesterday. Maybe we said goodbye last year.

These things, though they may be unsettling, are in fact relatively common. This recent study explored the grief resulting from pet loss, and surveyed pet owners who had said goodbye to their beloved pet within the last 2 years. It studied these “false recognitions” of pets by their owners, including sightings of the pet as well as hearing the pet’s noises. The study found that not only did many pet owners experience this, but that these experiences lasted for some time beyond the loss of the pet, as “many participants experienced false recognitions up to 24 months following their pet’s death” (White and Fessler).

Studies like this illustrate, and can help validate, the deep, profound impact the loss of a pet has on us. Their lives are so intricately entwined with ours. Their daily routine often dictates ours. They become so integral a part of the family that when they depart, they leave a gaping hole in our lives.

When pet owners experience these “phantom sounds,” it can feel alarming, even disconcerting. They may feel like there is something wrong with them, or even like they are losing their mind. While this is a strange and eerie phenomenon, it is not uncommon. Many people who have just lost a dearly loved one, and who are in the throes of grief, experience this phenomenon of “phantom sounds.” If you are experiencing this, you are not alone.

It may be unsettling, and it might make the pain of loss even more potent in those moments. But it is not forever. As the aforementioned study proves, this is relatively common in people who have deep attachments to their beloved pets, and these experiences do decline as time passes.

If you are one of the many pet owners who has been experiencing these “phantom sounds” after the passing if your sweet pet, please know that you are not alone. The reality is, the grief from the loss of a pet is deep, profound, and legitimate. Though we may have people in our lives telling us to “get over it,” or that “it was just an animal,” the truth is, it was a true, meaningful relationship, and no one has the right to tell you that your grief is not valid.

This phenomenon should decrease with the passing of time. However, if you find that these experiences are not fading, it may be very helpful to find someone to talk to. There are many pet loss support groups that are full of people who have deeply loved, and lost, a dear furry family member. Countless people have found it very helpful to have support and encouragement from other pet owners who share their same understanding and appreciation of the human-animal bond, and who have had their own personal experience with the loss of a beloved pet. These people have found that with that support from like-minded pet owners, they can continue through the process of grieving surrounded by love and support.

If this facet of grief concerns you or begins to strongly affect your daily life, you may consider enlisting the support of a mental health professional who has experience in helping people through the loss of a beloved pet. Even the most normal grief reactions can feel impossible to manage alone at times, and many people find that the support of an outside person can help them feel unstuck. Some people experience what is called “complicated grief” and have trouble healing over time and moving forward in their “new normal”. Everyone’s grief is unique, and there is no shame in speaking with a mental health professional about your own grief. This is a common, extremely helpful resource, and it has helped countless people be able to cope with the loss, and better understand and manage their grief.

Our precious furry family members make an indelible mark on our lives. Though some of us are left with temporary, “phantom sounds,” all of us are left with infinite, permanent, perfect memories that will not fade over time, but will simply grow more precious, more cherished, and more deeply engraved in our hearts.

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Debunking the Myths of In-Home Pet Euthanasia

One of the most difficult parts of being a pet owner is when we realize we must say goodbye. It is such a heartbreaking decision to make, and thinking about taking that final trip to the veterinary clinic can be overwhelming. In recent years, another option has become much more common: in-home end-of-life services. Many families have found that being able to say goodbye in their own home, and not needing to make that final trip to the clinic, has been a very valuable alternative for them. Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions associated with in-home pet euthanasia, many of these discouraging people from considering it as an option for their pet. And while the decision will always depend on personal preference, we feel it is helpful to “debunk” some of the myths of in-home pet euthanasia, to clear up some of the misconceptions, and answer some of the questions we frequently hear.

Why choose in-home pet euthanasia?

Traditional veterinary clinics provide an invaluable and irreplaceable service. They help our pets not only with routine care and emergency services, but they are also there to help our pets when they need help passing away. However, some of our pets may not enjoy going to the clinic, no matter how valuable it is for them. Some pets associate the clinic and staff with being poked and prodded or experiencing unfamiliar smells and people. Many pets are very nervous when they are in the clinic. Of course, there are other pets who love going to the vet and love the people they see there!

Some pets are terrified just to go in the car (cats, especially), or can be very large and difficult to transport. Sometimes the act of trying to get your pet into the car, or into a carrier, is a daunting one. Many of these challenges can be eliminated when a doctor can come to your home.

When it seems that a pet has reached the end of its life, the idea of taking a final trip into the vet can be overwhelming, especially if we have pets who grow very anxious when they have to go into the clinic. Requiring them to spend the last moments of their life in a place that has been scary and unsettling can be very upsetting, and even traumatizing for the pet owner. Though many times this is the only option (especially in emergency situations), MN Pets presents an alternative to this. By allowing the visit to take place in your home, your pet can be in the place where they are most comfortable, surrounded by their familiar smells and people.

We understand, however, that you may still have questions and concerns surrounding the idea of euthanizing your pet at home. We hope to address some of those concerns and provide helpful information.

Common Questions and Concerns

Where will the visit take place?

The visit will take place in your home. Many families wonder if “mobile practice” means the doctor will bring a van and the visit will take place in the van or elsewhere outside of the home. Our doctor will, in fact, come into your home for the visit. This way your pet can be in the place he or she is most comfortable and peaceful and you don’t have to worry about taking him or her outside of your home.

Won’t it be too upsetting for family members to have this experience at home?

One of the concerns we most commonly hear is that it might be very upsetting for the family to see their pet pass away at home. It may be a bad memory for family members, or they will never be able to look at the spot where the pet passed in the same way. We completely understand these concerns. This is an emotional, heartbreaking event, and it seems like it would be difficult to go through in one’s home. However, by allowing a pet to be in the place where they are most comfortable and peaceful, and not asking them to be in the clinic, we are giving the gift of a peaceful passing. Though it may be sad for us, it is so much more peaceful for them. We like to think of it as a final gift to our furry family members – to be able to say goodbye in the comfort of their own home, surrounded by the love of their family.

Should my other pets be present?

Sometimes family members are concerned that other pets in the household may distract from the experience (getting in the way or being too energetic) or that the death of a companion may possibly be upsetting for other pets to witness. To address the latter, this is an understandable concern. It will be upsetting enough for our pets to lose their friend – should they witness it as well? After being present for thousands of home euthanasia visits where other pets have been in attendance, our experience is very much the opposite.  The process is very gentle and peaceful and being present allows other pets to be aware of what happens to their friend. Of course, the decision is always up to the family. Each family knows their pets best.

Additionally, if a family has a pet who is very energetic, and if they are afraid that their pet may try to be too involved in the process or get in the way, it is perfectly fine if they feel the pet should hang out elsewhere during the majority of the visit. If a family decides for any reason not to have their other pets present, we would recommend they allow their other pet to see their pet’s body after the pet has passed. By being able to see and sniff their friend, they are able to understand what has happened and have closure, and not be left wondering where their friend has gone.

Should my children be present?

Another very common concern we hear is whether or not children should be present. This is another decision that is completely up to the family, and we are happy to offer some guidance and helpful resources. We feel it’s most helpful if children are always informed. Parents can present children with the option of being present or not.  Its important that they feel aware and informed of this decision regarding their furry family member. Honesty is very important, and while it can feel so much easier to keep upsetting things from our children, it is essential that we are open and honest about this. We have some resources that we would be happy to share with you that are very helpful for knowing how to approach this topic with our children. We even have an article that addresses each developmental stage, how children of different ages process and cope with pet loss, and how they may express their grief.

How does the doctor give the medications?

The doctor administers medications in two steps.  The first is a sedative and the second medication brings about a peaceful death.  Both the sedative and the final medication are given by injection.  The location of the injection varies depending on what the doctor feels would be the most comfortable for the pet and can be in the front leg, hind leg or side of the body. The first sedative injection may be a little uncomfortable, and your pet might feel a little prick as with a vaccine injection.  We use the most comfortable and effective medications available.

Is it messy?

Many people wonder if the visit will be messy. In general, it is very peaceful and not messy. Because the sedative that the doctors give is so relaxing, our pets will sometimes let go of their bladder or bowels during the visit.  Our doctors come prepared for this with potty pads to place under the pet in case this happens

How long does the visit take?

In general, our visit lasts about 45 minutes. Our doctors will never rush a family through the visit. This is such an intimate, emotional time for the family, and our doctors are there to support and help every step of the way. Our doctors love to listen to precious stories about the sweet pet, and they are also happy to answer any and all questions the family may have. Especially when children are present, our doctors make sure to be clear and informative, and they patiently and compassionately answer any and all questions a family may have.

Will my pet be able to hear me after they have been sedated?

We don’t know for certain if our pets can hear us, but we do feel that speaking to them, petting them, and giving them so much love during the visit is a very good thing to do, if the family is comfortable doing this. While we can’t say for certain that they can hear us, we also don’t know that they can’t, and for that reason we feel that being there with our pets and loving them through every moment is a beautiful thing to do. I have spoken to some doctors who do believe that our pets can hear and feel our presence even after the sedative is given.

This brings us to our next question…

What if I don’t think I can stay and watch?

Many people feel like they can’t bear to stay for the visit. We understand this as well. It is such a heartbreaking thing to have to say goodbye to our pets. If you feel you can’t stay to watch your pet say goodbye, that is perfectly fine. Some people prefer to step out of the room while their pet is peacefully sleeping, after the sedative has been given. That is just fine. Our doctor will gently stay by your pet’s side and will love and support them as they pass away. If you feel you cannot see your pet’s body after they have passed away, that is okay too. We understand this and our doctors are happy to accommodate this.

If you have any other questions regarding an in-home pet euthanasia visit, please feel free to ask us. We feel that it is so very important for families to be fully informed about all the options that they have for their precious pets.

 

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Anticipatory Grief: The Sadness Before the Loss

When we learn that our beloved pet has a terminal illness, or we realize that they are struggling with the changes that old age brings, many of us feel a deep sense of loss or grief even though our pet is still with us. This experience of coping with loss before our loved one has died is called anticipatory grief, and it is a common and natural reaction to the realization that you will soon be saying goodbye. We tend to think of grief as a reaction to the death of a pet, but in some situations the grief process begins the moment we learn of a terminal diagnosis or face the difficult decision of euthanasia.

When a pet dies, we often think of and refer to the death as one loss, but in many cases it can actually feel like a series of many losses. For example, as a dog ages, she may one day be unable to go for her daily walk. Or perhaps an elderly cat becomes unable to climb to the top of the couch where she always spent her days sunbathing. These changes represent endings, and they remind us of the inevitable goodbye that everyone who loves a pet must face. We grieve the loss of each and every loss along the way. To witness and reflect on the losses occurring during the end-of-life stage is a heartbreaking process that can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster. In tandem with our pet’s physical health, we experience the good days and the bad days with them and it often reflects in our grieving.

How people experience anticipatory grief varies greatly. People may experience many or few of the emotions. Some of the most common feelings include sorrow, dread, anger, anxiety, and depression, and may include physical feelings such as changes in appetite, weight, and sleep patterns. In addition, people may experience times of acceptance, peace, growth and reflection. Some people may feel the urge to distance themselves from the pet and the end-of-life process. While this is a distressing feeling, it can be a natural part of the process and is something that can be recognized and worked through. For most people, it is this combination of anxiety of what’s to come and the determination to make things count that leads us on an emotional rollercoaster.  It is important to acknowledge your experience and give yourself permission to feel it and process it.

In many ways, anticipatory grief is a form of coping as it helps you prepare yourself emotionally for the loss. However, there are some things that can help when you are feeling overwhelmed:

  • Reach out and use your support system. Like other forms of grief and loss, it is important to process your anticipatory grief experience with others you can trust. Whether it is a spouse, a friend, a support group or a mental health professional, it is important that you find someone you can turn to for support. When people ask “what can I do”, let them know honestly what they can do to help you.
  • Be extra kind to yourself. Understand that anticipatory grief may come in waves, and you may experience it in ways you do not expect. Your anticipatory grief may bring tears, anxiety, dread, difficulty sleeping or anger. Sometimes it may also bring growth, reflection or peace. Often, it brings a combination of these feelings at different times throughout the experience, and that is okay. Grieving, both before and after a loss, is hard work. Be sure to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling and to make extra time for self-care.
  • Make time to cherish your pet. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we can be so overwhelmed with what needs to be done and who to call that we miss the moments that we will long to remember. This may be a time to create and tackle a bucket list for your pet, or talk to them about how much you love them. Take special photographs of and with them, or begin a journal or scrapbook now while the memories and images are fresh in your mind. Some people enjoy making memorials while the pet is still here, such as paw prints, gardens or shadowboxes of their favorite things. While it is important to acknowledge your deep sense of sadness about saying goodbye, it is also important to make sure your sadness doesn’t “take over” and prevent you from living in the moment. Directing your pain and anxiety toward actions that create wonderful memories can help provide balance in an overwhelming time.
  • Use this time as an opportunity to plan. In cases of sudden or unanticipated deaths, many people feel overwhelmed with the decisions they are unexpectedly facing and often regret decisions they were forced to make in the heat of the moment. When we experience anticipatory grief, we are provided with a special, albeit painful, opportunity to make end-of-life plans such as where you would like to say goodbye, what you will do in the case of an emergency, and whom you may want to include in saying goodbye. Planning and making decisions about end-of-life care allows us to gain a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation, and it helps ensure that your final memories with your pet are positive and peaceful.

The grief that you feel as you prepare to say goodbye to your pet can produce intense sorrow and anxiety. It can also provide a foundation to mindfully plan and reflect on your relationship and memories with your pet. As with all grief experiences, there is no right or wrong, and no one can ever be fully prepared to say goodbye. It is okay to feel overwhelmed at times, and it’s okay to ask for help. If you need support while navigating the anticipatory grief experience, lean on those around you whom you trust, and reach out to our counselors if you’d like to talk more about your experience.

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Debunking the Myths of Pet Cremation

Factual information about pet cremation is often hard to come by. Many misconceptions, incorrect notions, myths, and flat out falsehoods are sometimes circulated, further muddying an already confusing, delicate topic. It is our hope that we can help clear up some of those false notions and myths, and offer factual, solid information on such an important and sensitive topic. With this article, we will explain how pet cremation works, what different cremation options exist, and what you receive when your pet’s cremains are returned to you.

 

The Cremation Process

To start, we would like to offer helpful information and clarity regarding how the cremation process works. Cremation, whether pet or human, follows the same basic process. The Cremation Association of North America summarizes this process in four basic steps:

  1. Transportation of the deceased from place of death to the crematory
  2. Secure, cold storage of the deceased prior to cremation
  3. The cremation process itself
  4. Return of cremated remains to the authorized agent

We partner with a wonderful local crematory, the Veterinary Hospitals Association (VHA), who follows these same basic steps, as do many human and pet crematories.

When the deceased is received by the facility, they are carefully identified. This is such an important and crucial step and there are many checkpoints in place to assure that the deceased is properly identified at every single step of the process.

As the deceased awaits the cremation process, very often the protocol includes a brief wait in “secure, cold storage.” Cold storage ensures that the deceased human or pet remains perfectly preserved while it waits for cremation to begin.
The next step is the cremation process itself. The deceased is placed in the cremation machine, which is called a “retort”. The retort reaches a very high degree of heat to achieve cremation. In the cremation process, all parts of the body are incinerated.  Throughout this process, everything but bone tissue disappears with the heat. After the cremation process has been completed, the material that remains after cooling down consists of bone fragments, called cremains.  These are collected from the retort, allowed to fully cool, and then placed in a machine that processes the bone fragments into a coarse powder, resembling ground seashells (sand) on the beach.  Just as you may see fragments of seashells that have not fully broken down, you may also see slightly larger fragments of bone. Once the cremains have been fully processed, they are placed in a secure bag, and then moved to their final container (usually an urn).

Next, we’d like to provide other details to clear up some basic misconceptions, myths, and falsehoods commonly believed about cremation and the cremation process. We will also explain the different options available for pet cremation.

 

“Ashes”?

What do you receive when your pet is returned to you after cremation? Very often, your pet’s remains are called “ashes.” But is this accurate? Not exactly. Strictly speaking, there is no ash remaining after a body has been cremated. What remains is only bone or bone fragments. Those bones are then processed, as explained earlier, so what you are receiving in your pet’s urn is bone material. In the cremation industry, this is referred to as “cremains” or, cremated remains. Many people expect the material to look how ashes are depicted in movies, when in fact, the cremains you will receive back are more of a finely ground, almost sandy texture.

 

Types of cremation

Communal

One option that many families choose for their pet is communal cremation. Communal cremation means that the pet is placed in a large (human-sized) retort and cremated with other families’ pets. Communal cremains are never returned to the family. Many families choose communal cremation because they feel that they do not need to have the cremains of their pet returned to them. They have memories, photos, and mementos to enjoy and to memorialize their pet, and they feel they do not need to keep the cremains. This cremation option means they do not have cremains returned. The communal cremation process, and the processing of the cremains, means that the pets cremains would actively commingle with the cremains of other pets and are disposed of privately by the crematory.

 

Separated

Another cremation option that many families select is called separated cremation. This is an option that allows a family to have their pet’s cremains returned to them. In this option, their pet’s body is placed into the large (human-sized) retort several feet apart from other pets.  There is a specific and exact amount of space separating each pet. The cremation process takes place and everything is burned away except for the bones (as described above). Contrary to the misinformation sometimes provided, the cremation process is very controlled and there isn’t movement of the bodies throughout the retort.  After the cremation process is complete, the bones, or cremains, of each separate pet are in the place they originally began.  They are carefully collected and kept separate, then processed separately, and bagged.

Every single step of the process involves careful identification, labeling, and documenting to ensure that pets are properly identified at every checkpoint. The number of pets in the retort during separated cremation depends on the size of the pets being cremated separately at the time. What is required is a predetermined amount of space for separation to ensure that pets are kept separate from one another, and that the cremains returned to the family are only their pet’s cremains. Later in this article we will address in more detail how you can be assured that you are receiving just your pet’s cremains.

 

“Partitioned”

“Partitioned” cremation is another option that some crematories offer. The partitioning device varies depending on the crematory, but in general, this indicates that there are multiple pets in the cremation chamber at a time, and there are barriers, or partitions, used while pets are being cremated. Some crematories use trays as “partitions,” while others have heat-resistant barriers placed between pets. While this hasn’t been proven to have any added benefit as a safeguard against minute amounts of commingling (which we will address momentarily), it does add peace of mind for some families.

 

Private/Individual

Private cremation, which has also been called “individual” cremation, indicates that the cremation process takes place with only one pet in the retort at one time. Some crematories offer this option, and some families choose it as it gives them even more peace of mind that the cremains they are receiving are just their pet’s cremains. As Peaceful Paws Cremation, a wonderful crematory in Portland, Oregon further explains, “Though this is not necessary for maintaining separation, we acknowledge that some pet owners might prefer this option.”

 

What does MN Pets offer?

MN Pets partners with the Veterinary Hospital Association (VHA) a crematory which has been in operation for more than 20 years.  VHA is operated under the careful guidance of the veterinary community, ensuring that processes and procedures are in alignment with the standard veterinarians desire for their clients and their own pets.  More than 200 veterinary clinics in the Twin Cities work with VHA for their pet cremation services.  VHA offers communal cremation (no ashes returned), separated cremation (your pet’s ashes returned), and individual cremation (just your pet alone in the retort, and just your pet’s ashes returned).

 

Commingling of cremated remains or “ashes”

One question that is brought up frequently regards the commingling, or mixing, of ashes.  This is a concern for many in the field of human cremation as well. When humans are cremated in retorts, there is an expected minute amount of cremated material left over after cremains have been collected from the machine. That minute amount of leftover material can technically be considered to “commingle” with the cremains of the next body put in the retort. However, this amount of minute commingling is inevitable and unavoidable. The same challenge is present in pet cremation, and Peaceful Paws Cremation summarizes this well:

“Although the crematory will take all reasonable efforts to remove all of the cremated remains from the cremation chamber, some dust and residue from the process will be left behind…Active commingling cannot by definition, occur with private cremation.  However, while every effort will be made to avoid commingling, inadvertent and incidental commingling of some minute particles of cremated remains from the residue of previous cremations is possible.”

 

Do cremains commingle in separated cremation?

The short answer is no: cremains do not commingle. Whether you choose individual or separated cremation, the cremains you are receiving are the processed bone fragments that are left when everything else has been burned off during the process of cremation. As the cremation process takes place, the body tissue and other bodily materials burn off entirely. The bones do not commingle during the cremation process. If you choose separated cremation, the bones left by your pet are still separated by feet of space from the bones of the other pets, and the bones of each pet are carefully collected and continue on through the careful and exact process. Therefore, you can be reassured that the cremains you receive, whether through individual or separated cremation, are just your pet’s cremains.

One common misconception or falsehood that has been circulated is that ashes commingle during separated cremation, and pets’ ashes get mixed up. Unfortunately, this is very misleading and can be distressing to pet owners who have chosen this option but aren’t aware of the details of the process. There is no ash left at all after the cremation process, only bone.

 

Pros/Cons of separated v. individual cremation

There are definite positive and negative factors with both cremation types. Some people feel that they do not have enough peace of mind with the separated cremation option, and they elect individual cremation. For families who are able to do this, this is a nice option. However, individual cremation does have a higher cost, whereas separated cremation is a more afforable option that still allows you to have your pet’s cremains returned to you.
Another factor to consider is the environmental impact of each option. Separated cremation offers a more environmentally conscious alternative, in which multiple pets are cremated at once, using the same amount of energy, while still allowing pets’ ‘ashes’ to be returned to their owners. Individual cremation, on the other hand, requires the same significant amount of energy to be used to cremate just one pet. This could mean that a very small cat would be placed in the large human-sized retort and cremated using the energy required to heat the entire retort.

 

Why is my pet kept in cold storage?

Very often, people wonder why their pet must be kept in cold storage. This is an understandable question. As is common with human cremation, in pet cremation, often the pet must spend some time waiting before it can be cremated. When this is the case, pets are placed in cold storage to preserve them as they await cremation. Due to the number of pets helped by crematories, often the pet is not able to be cremated right away. Because crematories want each pet to be treated respectfully, and respectfully preserved, cold storage is necessary to ensure that no decomposition takes place before the cremation process.

 

How is my pet handled at the crematory? How can I trust them with my beloved family member?

This is one of the most common questions we receive, and it is such an important one. When we allow our pets to be taken for cremation, we are trusting that they will be treated with the same respect, dignity, and tenderness that we would give them. Most pet crematories understand this, and they have strict rules regarding the treatment and handling of each pet. VHA, the crematory that MN Pets uses, demands the highest standard of respect and dignity in the handling of animals in their care. Each animal is carefully carried, placed, and respectfully transported at each step of the process. VHA even has security cameras in place and actively monitors employees and how they handle beloved pets.

 

How can I know I am getting my pet’s ashes back?

One of the most important and crucial parts of the cremation process is the identification of pets. The crematory that we use has a state-of-the-art, extremely sophisticated system with which to identify and track pets. There are multiple checkpoints along the way to ensure that pets are never confused, and the very complex and careful system they have in place has allowed them to report that zero mistakes are made.

 

Regulation and accreditation of Crematories

Another important aspect to take into consideration when choosing the best cremation option for your pet is if the facility is accredited or not. VHA, the crematory that MN Pets uses, is proud to be accredited by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC). The leading force in the industry, the IAOPCC is “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing the standards, ethics, and professionalism of pet cemeteries and crematories around the world”. For decades, the IAOPCC’s purpose has been to “set and elevate the standards and ethics of the pet aftercare profession”.
One of the most important aspects of a crematory is what sort of regulation they utilize. This not only ensures that they complete their tasks skillfully and accurately, but it also establishes the client’s trust in the crematory. As stated on their website, “Through the IAOPCC Accreditation Program, pet crematories are evaluated against a pool of more than 250 standards that represent the best practices in pet cremation care and pet crematory management.” By being a member of the IAOPCC, VHA is able to proudly proclaim that they are a carefully regulated and trustworthy facility that has proven success, accuracy, and dignified treatment of beloved pets.

Whichever crematory you choose to use, take into consideration if they are an accredited facility. This will help inform you of their business and methods and also give you the peace of mind that you are entrusting your beloved family members into professional, trustworthy hands.

 

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Regrets

 

We had to say goodbye to my girl when she was 14.

We had her since she was one, and she was every bit a family member as I was. Her name was Maddy, and she was a big, happy, sweet redheaded lab (her dad was yellow, and her mom was chocolate). We adopted her from a family who couldn’t take care of her anymore. She’d been with us through two moves, three states, elementary, middle, high school, and college. Maddy was a constant source of joy, laughter, comfort, companionship, and love. She was my best friend- my sister (just a…really hairy one).

As the years passed and Maddy got older, she didn’t really change that much. Sure, she slowed down a bit, and we couldn’t really take her on walks through our hilly neighborhood anymore. But she didn’t seem to mind. She grew white around her eyes and nose, but that just gave her a wizened look, and it made us love her even more. Nothing ever altered her personality. She was always just as sweet, just as dopey, just as loving, just as loyal.

But in the last several months of her life, she really did start to change. She grew very thin, and she had trouble getting up on her own. For the first time in her entire life, she had an accident in the house. She wasn’t energetic anymore, and her tail didn’t wag as much. Her sweet, gentle eyes seemed clouded with worry.

You would think that I would have had a keen awareness of her condition, that I would have known that her time with us would soon come to an end. You would think that I would have been making sure to savor every single moment with her. Maddy was my best friend, after all. My sister.

But I was 20, and I was stupidly distracted by so many things. It was summer, and I was home from college, working full-time. Life was fast paced, and the slow and steady decline of my girl was not really on my radar.

In the last few weeks of her life, her personality was markedly different. She was still so sweet, but she had none of her dopey spirit; she seemed a little anxious, and nervous. My dad thinks she had dementia. In my silly, selfish mindset, she just wasn’t that fun to be around.

In fact, there were moments in which I would become frustrated with her. I would be lying on the couch, trying to relax, and she would park in front of me and breathe her stinky breath in my face. So I’d push her face away from mine in disgust. Or she would try to “hold hands” with me (as she always did). Her claws would painfully dig into my leg, and I’d move her paw as fast as I could.

Or we would try to let her out to go to the bathroom, and as she struggled to get up and make it to the door in time, she would accidentally go on the way. Rather than acknowledging the look of embarrassment and shame on her face, we would be annoyed that we had a mess to clean up.

If I had only paid attention, if I had known then that our days with her were few, oh how differently I would have spent them.

I was in the middle of my workday when my dad called me. He said “Chelsea, I think Maddy is really struggling now.” He told me that our vet was afraid that one of these days, we would let her out to go to the bathroom and she would injure herself badly. She struggled to stand as it was and could hardly hold herself up when she went out. An injury or a bad fall were likely.

I couldn’t even process what he was really saying, but I hurried home on my lunch break. When I arrived, both my parents were home. Maddy was standing in the garage, looking confused and anxious. I walked over to her, while my dad tried again to explain what was going on. She was not doing well. She could no longer support her own weight, despite how thin she had become. She was confused. She was in pain. We needed to take her in.

I was upset and overwhelmed, and I didn’t fully grasp what was happening. I petted her briefly, and I stood next to her as I numbly tried to process what my dad was saying, but I didn’t realize, even for a moment, that this was my only opportunity to say goodbye.

I only had a few minutes at home, and then I had to hop in my car and hurry back to work. I worked with children, and as I drove, my focus was more on trying to look like I hadn’t been crying then on what was happening with my girl.

When I got home from work that night and walked into our empty house, reality finally hit me. My sweet Maddy was gone forever. She’d never again greet me at the door. She would never again try to “hold hands.” I could never again lie down on the floor with her and take a nap. I would never be able to stroke the white around her eyes, or kiss her soft head, or tell her how very much I loved her.

And in that moment, my regret was born.

In that moment, I would have given anything to have her stinky breath in my face again. Or to hold her hand. Or even to clean up her accident and hug her and tell her it was okay, and that she was the very best girl no matter what.

In that moment, I wished I had said goodbye. I wished I hadn’t cared so much about being late for work. I wished that I had bent down and held her face in my hands and whispered a thousand “I love you”s.

I wish I had gone with my dad. I wish I had been there with her, kissed her, and held her as she left this earth.

I wish I could talk to her now. I wish I could tell her how much I miss her, how much she meant to me. How much she still means to me. I wish I could tell her that I am sorry. Sorry for hating her stinky breath and sorry for rejecting her attempts to hold hands, sorry for not cherishing every single minute with her. And sorry for not saying goodbye.

She was my best friend. She was always there for me. And I wasn’t there for her.

It has been almost 8 years, but I still dream about her. Often. Sometimes I dream that she is alive and well,  like we’ve gone back in time and she is only 10 years old, and “reality” was the dream the entire time. Sometimes I dream that we find her after all these years, and that she is somehow still alive, but very very old. In these dreams, I have a chance to show her just how much I have always loved her, and I know that when it comes time to say goodbye again, this time I will do it right.

These dreams are always eerily vivid. I awake, certain that it was all real, that we did find Maddy and she is alive and well and there was nothing to be sad about! And then as the dream fades away, and as reality heavily sets in, I feel the grief and regret all over again.

I tell myself that I did my best. That I didn’t do any of this on purpose. That I did love her so much and tell her all the time, and that she knew how much I loved her. That she spent 13 beautiful years in our family, and she adored every second. I tell myself that at the end, she was already confused, and she probably wouldn’t have remembered or understood what I said to her anyway. But no matter how many times I tell myself these things, my regret remains. Sometimes it is as fresh as if it all happened yesterday.

But I know that this regret, this guilt that I carry with me, is felt by so many who lose a dearly loved one. If we could have just one more day with them. If we could say just one more thing, or if we could take back that one thing we said.

I think what makes the guilt so strong when we lose a pet is that our sweet pets are so pure and perfect. They can never utter an unkind word, and they live their lives devoted to us, whereas we flawed humans are capable of so many mistakes. Our animals close their eyes after a lifetime filled only with love, but all we can think about is what we did wrong in the short time we had with them.

But the truth is, we can be assured that our pets knew how much we loved them. Goodness knows we told them all the time. And we gave them beautiful, happy lives as a part of our families. We gave them walks and toys and snuggles and treats- so many things that sent their little feet dancing and their tails wagging. They knew. They always knew, and in the end, in their final moment, they knew.

My sweet Maddy knew. Though I wasn’t there to tell her, she knew. And though her mind had begun to wander away as the end of her life drew near, I know that it wandered away to a place free from pain and discomfort, a place full of her very favorite people, and all the “I love you”s we ever said.

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Only a dog

A colleague recently shared a story with me, one from her days working in a veterinary clinic. A man had come in during a shift that she worked. He was a big, older guy, burly, wearing overalls. He most likely lived in the country, my colleague said. Perhaps a farmer.

He had brought his elderly dog with him. It was time to say goodbye.

The vet techs and the doctor gently lifted his dog onto the table. The man stayed faithfully beside his dog, standing over him. When the moment came, there was no initial sedative, just the one shot.

The doctor gently administered the injection. As it was being given, the dog lifted his head, looked straight up at his man, and licked his face. Then he lay down his head and passed away.


“It was only a dog.”

“It was just a cat.”

Have you heard these words before? Even though comments like these are usually well-intended, the truth is, they often hurt more than they heal. When a person is grieving the loss of something very precious to them, one of the most important things their friends and family can do is support them, be there for them, and indicate to them that they are not alone. But the words “It was only a______,” communicate a much different message. They say:

“I don’t understand your feelings, and I’m making no effort to,”

“I think there is something wrong with what you are feeling, or how deeply you are feeling it.”

“You need to move on.”

I am sure no friend or family member would ever want to communicate these things to their loved ones. We want to say helpful things, things that comfort and heal, or things that will “fix” the grief. But these words are not healing words, and there is no simple fix for grief. When we say, “it was only a____ ,” we indicate that, through our lack of understanding of our loved one’s feelings, we are not there for them in the way that they need us to be. By saying these words, we communicate that not only do we do not understand their pain, we think there is something wrong with it. This further isolates our loved ones at a time when the loss of their beloved companion may have already left them with a great deal of loneliness. And by indicating that they need to move on and “get over it,” we are imposing a timeline on their grieving process. Rather than expediting the healing, this can often have the opposite effect.

When a human is grieving the loss of another human, we would never assume we fully understand their relationship. Human relationships are private, and complex. We sympathize, we express words of support and comfort, no matter how distantly related the individuals, no matter how long it’s been since they’ve spoken.

Are relationships with pets that different?

They are not human, but that doesn’t hinder us from developing a deep relationship with them. They live in our homes. Sometimes they share our beds. We see them every single day. They are joyful when we are joyful; our joy gives them unbridled happiness, and their joy gives us life. They feel our pain with us; they bear it with us. They offer comfort unlike what any human could ever provide, when no words could possibly say what we need to hear. There is great profoundness in the quiet, simple, steadfast presence of a pet. In their silence, they speak things humans never could.

Of course, our friends and family may not be aware of the depth of the relationship we have with a beloved pet. They weren’t present for the perfect silly joy, or the moments of sorrow, or the countless days of our precious, mundane routine. They may simply not understand. They may have never experienced this themselves.

The way I like to think about it is like this: there are those who have “the animal piece.” They understand.

And there are those who don’t have the animal piece. They just don’t get it, and that is perfectly fine. But they need to know something:  the people with “the animal piece” are not wrong, or defective, or weak, or strange. They simply have a “piece” that others may be missing. And I think that when people say “It was only a____,” they reveal to us that they don’t have that piece. Though those words sting, if we can re-frame the moment, pause and step back, and view it with the understanding that the words came from a place that is missing that piece, then maybe we can try to shrug off the hurt it may cause, and instead remind ourselves that our hearts have that beautiful piece, and that others are merely missing out.


Maybe you are trying to cope with your own, fresh grief. Perhaps you have just lost a most beloved furry family member. Perhaps you have recently heard these well-intended, but painful words. If so, please know that it was not only a dog, or a cat. He or she was a dearly loved, integral part of your family, and that is a profound loss to bear. Please know that we hear you, we understand your pain, and we support you as you begin to walk through this time of grief. If you ever need a listening ear or a supportive word, we are here for you. We and our team of social workers all have that “piece,” and we are more than willing to be that support for you that you may not have in your circle.

Maybe you are a person who has recently spoken those words to someone, in the hopes that it would help. We all want to comfort our loved ones when they are grieving. We wish we could “fix” their pain. We all desperately want to say the right things. If you have said something like this to someone in your life, it is ok. Please do not feel guilty. We are not speaking to you from a place of judgment or resentment, but rather in the hopes that we can provide a deeper understanding of a very complicated, very painful time in our loved ones’ lives.


The story of the farmer and his dog is true, and it is one of the most beautiful, powerful, profound things I have ever had the honor to hear. The steady, abiding, mighty love between an animal and his human.

Only a dog? It’s true.

Only a dog could show such immovable, unwavering devotion. Only a dog could give so pure, so selfless a final act, for his only thought in the last moment of his life was his love for his man.

Only a dog, only a cat, only our precious pets can show us such profound, mighty selfless love, the purest example of unconditional love we have on this earth.

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Welcome

We’d like to welcome you to MN Pets’ website. If you are new to our site, we are happy you’ve found us.  We’ve designed the site to provide you with important information as you face a difficult choice. We are pleased to share the photos of some of our past patients on our home page. These are just a few of the many beloved pets of our clients here in the Twin Cities.

If you’ve been to our website before, you’ll notice that much of the content is the same.  There are some changes related to enhanced usability for you, including an easy appointment request form, a thorough explanation of all the cremation options and a blog page. We’ll continue to expand this with detailed information we feel may be important to you. We welcome your comments and feedback as part of this community.

You can find our MN Pets video which explains the home euthanasia process and answers some of the more common questions we hear from clients. You can also view the newscast from WCCO-TV profiling our client Janis Olson and her dog, Heather. You may want to carve out some uninterrupted time for this one and have a Kleenex handy.

We have a vibrant Facebook and Instagram community, composed of fellow pet-lovers.  We discuss pet loss and grief, and many of our clients have graciously shared their stories, which may help you to understand what it is like working with MN Pets. We’d appreciate you becoming a friend of MN Pets.

We welcome your feedback on what you find to be helpful or confusing. We’ll work to continually improve the site to meet your needs.

Welcome and take your time having a look around.

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How do I know it’s time?

dog face“I wish my pet could just tell me when they’re ready.” We often hear clients say this when struggling to make the decision on whether to help their pet with euthanasia. This can be the hardest decision that we as pet owners make, and having our pets help us with this decision would ease the guilt that is often felt when faced with the question, “Is it time?” While some people wait to make the decision on euthanasia until their pet is quite ill and has a very clear poor quality of life, others are encouraged by the fact that their dog is still eating or wagging their tail or their cat is still purring. We understand that this can be confusing. After all, how can we schedule this appointment if our dog is still happy to see us come                                                                        home, or if our cat is still eating her breakfast?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Pets often do not appear to be in pain because they instinctively don’t show outward signs of distress.  Humans may wince, vocalize, and moan when they are in pain, but dogs and cats very often live in pain but never show it.
  • Some pets continue to eat and drink normally, even as they are nearing the end of their lives.  It is true that one symptom of decline is decreased appetite and thirst, but not all pets stop eating or taking in water, so judging their quality of life based on the fact that they are still eating or drinking on their own can be misleading.
  • Your pet may give you clear signs that they are ready, and some people report that their pet “told” them that it was time.  You can read more about how to communicate with your pet in this way by reading Lisa’s blog post, Waiting for a Sign.
  • We say this often, and we may have even said it to you over the phone, but we believe that it’s best to help our pets a little “too soon” than too late.  While it can feel odd to euthanize a pet that is still experiencing some quality of life and showing their personality, it often leaves us pet owners with a more peaceful feeling than waiting until our pets are clearly suffering to help end their pain.

While we wish that we would have an “Ah-ha!” moment with our pets at the end of their lives, we also understand that it may not happen that way.  Trusting what you’re feeling in your heart, speaking about your options with your veterinarian, and knowing what to expect should you decide that now is not the time for euthanasia are all ways to help you with this most-difficult decision.

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