As I prepare for my third year at IAAHPC, the veterinary hospice conference, I’ve taken pause to reflect on this journey and how it affects the way I view veterinary medicine. Personally, I have only euthanized a personal pet in a clinic (versus at home) one time.
It was Nuke, my vet school coonhound, and he was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma just a month after I graduated and came back home. The veterinarian was lovely and did as great a job as one can do in that situation, but so many memories still stick in my head:
-They asked me to come in at the end of the day, ostensibly to make it easier for me. It meant I had to wait all day and then sit, sobbing, in rush hour traffic. It wasn’t what I preferred, but I was too tired and sad to realize I should have asked for what I needed.
-They took him in the back to place a catheter. I get it, I did the same thing throughout my entire clinic career. It’s definitely easier for the staff. I would have preferred to be with him the whole time. After doing it by myself in people’s homes with no backup- yes, it is perfectly possible.
-After I left, they took his body and placed it in a black garbage bag in the freezer until the aftercare place arrives on their weekly rounds. I know, because we all do this. Every clinic I have worked at does it this way. It is just the way it is done.
But does it have to be?
I know that the answer is no. I know that there are options out there that so many people want, so many ways we can better respect the dignity of our patients and clients before and after death, and we owe it to you all to let you know they are possible. Veterinarians have many reasons for not offering them, and they are not invalid concerns:
- They are more expensive
- They take more time to organize
- Most people do not want them
While many if not most clients are fine with the process the way it is, it hurts me to no end to know that so many people are still unaware of the myriad additional options out there to help your pet at end of life and to ease your pain as a family through the process. You may have to advocate for yourself, prepare, and find these options on your own- trust me, after having to advocate for my mother to get into hospice when it wasn’t offered as an option, this is kind of a universal problem.
To that end, I’d like to share with you my End of Life Bill of Rights- the things that you as an owner have a right to ask for and, after having worked with so many like minded colleagues now for several years- I can tell you that someone out there is equipped to provide you with:
The Right to Refuse Treatment. If your pet is suffering from a terminal disease, you have the right to say no to chemo, or surgery, or radiation. I believe in my heart that most veterinarians out there support clients in that, but there seems to be a lost-in-translation moment where so many owners feel pressured into heroic measures they were not prepared to take, emotionally or financially. This does not mean I am advocating to neglect an ill pet in suffering- quite the contrary, I am advocating for aggressive and patient focused comfort care.
The Right to Pursue Treatment. On the flip side, if you want to take your pet to the best of the best and do everything in the book possible to change things, it’s your call, not ours. We can offer you guidance and advice, but our job is to help you make an informed decision about realistic outcomes.
The Right to Have Your Family Involved. Unfortunately, some veterinarians still actively discourage families from having children present during euthanasia in the clinic. The emotion makes them uncomfortable and is disruptive. It is a clinic-focused way of thinking that is not focused on family needs. This is a once in a lifetime transition, and you need to do what you need to do. Many clients do not want their children present, which is fine- especially for kids under 5 who don’t understand what is happening- but it should be your choice. What your children see and hear- or don’t see- will live with them forever. If you don’t know how to approach the conversation- there are many, many professionals who do, and they have excellent resources to help.
The Right to Impeccably Respectful Aftercare. Most people don’t want to know what we do with a pet’s body afterwards. If they ask, I would tell them, and assure them we are as respectful as we can be. I believe in transparency. Nonetheless it is a disturbing image to many, myself included. If we can’t be honest without feeling like there’s a need to cushion the blow, why not change it? Especially when it’s such an easy thing to do?
More recently I have worked with a local business that doesn’t use bags or hold pets onsite; pets are wrapped in a clean white sheet and transported directly to the crematory facility, with the family knowing that the position their pet was last placed in is how they will remain. Yes, it costs more. And yes, many people are happy to pay it for that peace of mind. Some clients of mine transport their pet directly to an aftercare facility themselves, or have a trusted friend do it, because that chain of custody is important to them. These are all valid options.
The Right to Die at Home. The first time I went to a hospice conference, it changed everything for me. We can do so much better by our clients. In-home hospice and euthanasia veterinarians are changing the landscape of the profession, and providers exist all over the world. We are trained to offer not only medical support, but we are able to direct your family to the compassionate emotional support you may need, through chaplains, grief counselors, and support groups. We can offer palliative care options when medical treatment is discontinued- as in humans, we have a wide array of comfort care support that goes far beyond a pain pill here and there that can ease the discomfort of end of life.
And when the time comes, you will be at home, in a safe place, with those around you that you need. I bring blankets, candles, music- things that might not be practical in a busy clinic but, in a time of grief, provide small but vital bits of calm through all the senses. For those who experience euthanasia in a clinic, you also have the right to take the time you need, to make the environment what you need it to be for you. It matters. Your bond matters, too.
With love, Dr. V
The summer sun creates a great opportunity to spend time outside for both humans and pets, but with the sunny rays come some sweltering temperatures. Because our dogs and cats don’t speak English very well, it’s important to know when and how to help your dog out in the heat.
Who doesn’t love to delight their dog with a car ride? Although car rides anywhere other than the vet are fun for most dog, running errands and leaving your dog in the car can be a deadly risk. A car can turn into an oven very quickly when the air conditioning isn’t running and there is no air flowing through the windows and the temperature inside the car can surpass the temperature outside. The longer your vehicle sits in the sun the hotter it gets on the inside. Below is a chart of the temperature outside and the temperature the car can be:
|OutsideTemperature||10 Min. CarTemperature||30 Min. CarTemperature|
Going on walks is great exercise, but we’ve all walked barefoot on sizzling asphalt, cement and even docks and decks. Your pet’s paws are skin too and don’t have any mysterious properties protecting them from the heat. In the summer walks on asphalt and cement may not be possible. Test the asphalt heat by placing the back of your hand on the asphalt for 10 seconds. If it doesn’t burn, you and your dog are good to go. If a walk is necessary to your dog’s routine on those scorching days, there are shoes for dogs that can protect their paws.
Many pets love lounging in the sun, but did you know that they are susceptible to sunburns too? Although their fur protects them, their nose and sometimes parts of their belly are exposed. Some dogs require more coverage especially those with thin hair, white hair or who have been recently shaved. Don’t use human sunscreen on your pet because it’s not necessarily safe for them. Instead, there is sunscreen specifically for dogs. When applying doggy sunscreen, don’t forget your pet’s tummy because the ground can reflect the sun’s rays. It’s also very important to provide shade so your dog can get out of the sun if they feel too hot.
It’s a great season to play with your pet in the sunshine and beautiful weather. With these tips and of course supervision and plenty of fresh drinking water, you and your dog will have a fabulous summer.
Here’s a Memorial Day tribute to Military Animals from The Animal Den
Memorial Day is a day we observe to commemorate those who died while serving in America’s armed forces. Many men and women sacrificed their lives to preserve the freedom we find in the United States and we are forever grateful. There are a number of our furry four-legged, finned and feathered friends that have served and currently serve in the military, and in their honor, we’d like to share some of their stories with you. (All of the following animals survived through their military service.)
Sergeant Stubby, World War I, Army
During Stubby’s life, he managed to climb the social and military ranks from mixed-breed stray to sergeant. Found in 1917 while wandering the campus of Yale University, Stubby was adopted as the mascot of the 102nd Infantry while they were training for battle during World War I. Off to France Stubby went and without any formal training, he learned to detect gas attacks and also was able to hear when it was time to duck and cover. He was wounded by a German grenade, but once he healed he gladly went back to the trenches. Near the end of the war, Stubby was injured again in both a leg and chest by another German grenade. He then was smuggled home by fellow soldier Robert Conroy. Upon return to the states, Stubby was celebrated for his heroism and participated in parades and even met some of our countries’ presidents. In addition to the medals he earned, he even has a brick at the Liberty Memorial that reads: Sergeant Stubby, Hero of WWI, A Brave Stray.
Sergeant Reckless, Korean War, Marine Corps
Sergeant Reckless was a Mongolian mixed-breed horse that was raced in Korea before she was purchased by a group of Marines in 1952. She was trained to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon. After training, her sweet disposition allowed her to roam the camp freely and she had an appetite for just about anything she could find including Coca-Cola and poker chips. Her primary duty was to deliver up to 216 pounds of artillery. She learned the routes very quickly and was able to lead herself after being shown the path a few times. Sgt. Reckless was shot only twice and received two purple hearts. At the end of the war, she was brought to the United States and was the guest of honor at the Marine banquet upon her arrival. She retired in 1960 at Camp Pendleton with full military honors.
Zak, Homeland Defense, Navy
Zak is a California sea lion weighing in at 375 pounds. Residing in San Diego, Zak was chosen to be trained in the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. Sea lions are known for their intelligence and, much like training a dog, are taught with rewards and positive reinforcement. Zak’s duties are to patrol piers and Navy stations for any type of swimming attack and to detect sea mines. He is doing a great job so far as there hasn’t been a successful attack yet.
Smoky, World War II, Air Force
Smoky is probably the tiniest military animal weighing in at just four pounds! This Yorkshire terrier was found in a foxhole in New Guinea during World War II in 1944. She was originally thought to belong to a Japanese soldier, but when she didn’t understand any Japanese commands when taken to a Japanese prison camp, she was given to Corporal William A. Wynne. She was a part of 150 air raids and received eight battle stars. She survived a typhoon in Okinawa and even parachuted from a tree in a parachute specifically designed for her. She also assisted in building an airbase. Because of her small size, she was able to run a cable through an eight-inch pipe. To learn more about this amazing little pooch, Wynne published a book about his time with her titled Yorkie Doodle Dandy: Or, the Other Woman Was a Real Dog.
Private First Class (Pfc.) Hammer, Iraq War, Army
Pfc. Hammer is an Iraqi born tabby cat that was born on site of an 4th Infantry Division Army base. Named after the team that adopted him, Team Hammer, he boosted morale and also kept the area free of mice and other pests. After his fifth mouse, he was promoted from stray to Private First Class. In return for being such a positive member of the team, the unit would protect Pfc. Hammer during attacks by tucking him into their armor. Upon realizing the unit would be returning home, Sergeant Rick Bousfield contacted Allie Cats Allies who raised enough money to bring Pfc. Hammer to the United States. Pfc. Hammer is now retired and resides with his fellow soldier Bousfield.
Cher Ami, World War I, Army
There were more than 200, 000 pigeons recruited by the United States to serve in World War I and Cher Ami was one dedicated bird. Cher Ami was given to the Army in 1918 and was trained by American pigeon trainers. Her claim to fame in addition to 11 other successful deliveries, was her determination to deliver a message that saved 200 men who were trapped behind
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The husky is an awesome furry friend. Enjoy and share this great husky pet meme!