Part 1: When Euthanasia is Not an Option

What does the ideal scenario look like for you when it comes time to say goodbye to your pet? Does it involve one last trip to the vet that has been there for you since their first puppy visit? Or maybe having a mobile veterinarian come out to your home so your cat can pass in a more familiar environment without the stress of a last car ride? I’ve always been one to say that planning ahead is the best possible thing to do when it comes to the end of life for our pets, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan?

Euthanasia is a unique and compassionate gift we can give our animals when signs of old age have progressed greatly, or when they begin suffering from a terminal illness. Unfortunately, euthanasia may not always be an option for everyone.

The opportunity to consider euthanasia may be impacted by factors such as:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Financial constraints
  • An unexpected and quick turn in your pet’s health
  • Family members not seeing eye-to-eye on deciding when it is time to make that call

I found myself in one of these scenarios just last year with our 5 year old rescue dog, Tex. We had adopted him in February, just before the world shut down due to COVID. At the end of April, he was diagnosed with a severe form of kidney disease that had already progressed so far, we thought we just had months left with him. Our hearts were broken, but we decided to do what we could to help keep him comfortable until it came time to say goodbye. Just three weeks after he was diagnosed, he took a sudden turn for the worse.

I was forced to make a quick decision; either I take him to an emergency clinic where I would have to hand him over, and not be with him due to COVID protocols, or stay with him at home until I could get a doctor out to us to help with euthanasia which would be the next morning. I wasn’t sure how much time he had, but I KNEW I wanted to be with him to say goodbye, so I chose the latter. I am so grateful that I did.

He passed a lot quicker than any of us had anticipated, it was just hours. With the help of our veterinarian over the phone, I saw him through the dying process by myself and he was able to die in the comfort of his own home, and on his own terms.

This experience has opened my eyes in so many ways, but most importantly it has taught me that euthanasia is a luxury, but not always an option or necessity. Death is a natural process, and something the body prepares for, sometimes months in advance, other times just prior to passing.

During this time of COVID, I’ve spoken with several families finding themselves in similar situations. Their regular clinic/emergency clinic is full or cannot allow them inside, and the mobile end-of-life practice is booked days in advance. It is important for everyone to know that deciding to sit with their pet as they pass at home IS an option.

I admit that I would have found much more comfort if I knew what to expect during the dying process. Being a veterinary technician, I’ve only ever been a part of the euthanasia process. I recently read a booklet that explains what to expect from months, days, and hours leading up to death. I can now look back to that day and put together what was happening. This has helped my healing journey immensely.

I hope to share what I have learned with others, whether it’s a conversation walking them through the process, or sending them resources and tips to prepare for the possibility that they may have to comfort their pet as they pass at home.

The booklet I referred to previously is called “Soar, My Butterfly” by Gail Pope. In Part Two of this blog series, I will walk through this booklet and summarize what to expect during the dying process.

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