By Abigail Messina, DVM: Veterinarian at Vet At Your Door, P.C.
“Goodbye, sweet friend” she said as she planted one last gentle kiss on her beloved dog’s forehead. Emmy was an adorable little Lhasa Apso, who had helped more people in her 17 years than most humans do in a lifetime. Her owner was a social worker who used to bring Emmy along to her appointments, and she witnessed first hand the amazing healing ability of four paws and a wagging tail. As veterinary professionals, euthanasia is a very common, very normal part of our jobs. Most of us are able to push through the grief of the families involved, and focus on the good that is being done with this hard task. The peace, the comfort, the respect, the dignity that is being given to these furry little family members. It is without a doubt one of the most emotionally conflicting aspects of our jobs; knowing that after you are done this family will have to cope with a huge hole in their household, but also knowing that you are helping this pet in the most compassionate way possible. However, there are certain euthanasias that break through that calmness, that professionalism. Those ones that hit you like a sucker punch in the gut, and you carry that sadness around with you for days. Sometimes they are patients or clients we have grown close with throughout the years, sometimes they are ones we have just met that day. We get to see first-hand the bond between owner and pet in it’s purest form, and sometimes the raw emotion and love experienced in that moment is overwhelming.
I have always gravitated towards hospice care and euthanasia - which I know sounds horrible on the surface, but hear me out. There are so many times throughout your career as a veterinarian where you feel as though you don’t know enough, can’t offer enough, can’t help enough. Veterinarians and their support staff are some of the most empathetic and selfless people out there, and we are also perfectionists. That makes several parts of medicine difficult - as nothing in life is perfect, and despite your best efforts, not everything always turns out the way it should. In euthanasia, I can be more helpful than I will ever be at any other time in that pet’s life. Their pet is declining, it’s body is failing and I can help. I can help the family have peace and comfort with the decision they need to make. I can help the pet pass with the love and dignity that it deserves. I can help give them a level of comfort and happiness that no medications in this world could bring. And I can be there for that family even after their pet is gone, and be a source of healing for them. My clients expect me to be honest in all situations - but especially when it comes to end-of-life care and helping them determine when it’s time to say goodbye. They trust me most, with this. It is a huge responsibility and an honor to be the one to help them; to not only be their vet, but to be their friend, their counselor, their lifeline.
Since becoming a house-call vet, I have grown to cherish these appointments even more. Home euthanasias are so much more intimate and relaxed, and while it is still understandably a sad appointment, it is also the most beautiful one. Everything is more natural and at ease - the family is in their own home, the pet is on their own bed surrounded by the people and the things and the smells that they love and are familiar with. We have the time to sit and share stories about their pet when they were younger, or the struggles and changes they helped their owners through. There is oftentimes laughter as well as tears. We are able to focus on the family and their beloved pet who is about to say goodbye; there are no distractions, just the quiet beauty that is that last act of love. It is by far the most real, most emotionally honest appointment we see, and I am so privileged to be a part of that. I had never met Emmy and her mom before, but the sweetness and the love that I witnessed that snowy morning was so impactful that I couldn’t help but be affected by it. It is times like this that I am grateful for what I do, and I love my job; and I am so thankful to those past, present, and future families that allow us to help them through this part of their pet’s life.