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When We Must Say Goodbye to Our Beloved Pets

September 4, 2004 by Maria-Elena Cloherty, DVM

I am often faced with the painful task of helping an owner make “the final decision”. The typical question is “what would you do if this were your pet?” You cannot know how difficult this is for me to place myself in someone else’s shoes for a minute & truly weigh emotion versus reason- but this is asked of me daily in my dual roles as both an animal lover, and as an animal doctor. In many cases, the choice is right there before our eyes, but is easier to view from the objective perspective as the doctor, and not the owner, attached to their dear friend. But when an animal is greatly suffering, failing in some way without any opportunity to rebound either due to age or severity of disease, I cannot in faithfulness to my professional oath try to sugar-coat what I deeply believe is right. This is when I can in good conscience say that it is best not to prolong one’s suffering. At these times, I tell owners to take a weekend or a day to spend with their pet, and to be at peace with this decision

Occasionally we (as veterinarians) are face-to-face with a situation in which an otherwise formerly healthy animal has a sudden tragedy befall them (trauma), or owners of a significantly ill animal are financially unable to pay for some form of diagnostic or treatment, this presents a situation in which they must say goodbye to their friend.This is when it is a heart-wrenching circumstance where I must balance kindness to the owner & their wishes, with what is ultimately best for the pet.

Sometimes too, I must speak with owners who are unprepared to learn the news that their pet is very sick, with an irreversible disease. Not just some easily remedied ailment that an antibiotic or small surgical correction can fix. In these instances, I must choke back the emotion & tears, and do that job for which I was trained- help the animal by alleviating suffering & educate the owner as to the options for treatment or saying their farewells.

Many of my colleagues, including myself will make ourselves accessible to euthanize pets at an owner’s house, especially if they would like to bury their pet at home. There are as many options as to selecting how you would like your pet to be handled post-euthanasia as there are in the human world-private burial, private cremation or group handlings of either if cost becomes prohibitive. We are here to serve you in your hour of need, and often it is hard to discuss these “technicalities” when emotions run high, this is why I try to tell owners to mentally be prepared & know what you would want for your pet, before the tough day comes.

This past weekend, after a few weeks of uncertainty, I too had to make the decision to euthanize my first pet dog, our family’s pet, Genevieve. This was perhaps for me the toughest decision to make, but in the last week a lot had changed in her health status for the worse. This made me realize the importance of my choice to give her peace, and gave me the power to choose selflessness, and not prolong her suffering for my comfort in having her by my side. Through the tears that I shed, as well as those of my parents, with whom she had until recently resided, I tried to explain that we could do no better thing than to allow her to pass before she became immobile, continue to have seizure episodes, and was so sick that it were in fact cruelty to make her continue. This is the luxury that we veterinarians have, that hopefully in the future our human counterparts may also enjoy, the gift of permanently relieving suffering.

For now the pain is still so great for those of us left behind. It is as if the wind were knocked out of me, and I know that my folks are still despondent. However, I know with time that they will open their hearts to another pet from a local shelter, one who needs rescuing & who will in turn return a sense of joy to my family’s lives. But I also know that Genny will not be forgotten!

- Maria-Elena Cloherty, DVM

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