The Vet is In:
The Long Goodbye
As a veterinarian in my 39th year of practice, I am all too accustomed to the heart-wrenching pain that end-of-life issues in our pets create for us. We must face the fact that our companion can’t be with us forever, and then we must carefully interpret the animal’s status: any physical pain? Mental distress caused by being helpless, painful, and trapped in a failing body? Finally, we have to bring ourselves to load our cats into their carriers and our dogs into the car as we drive our beloved pet to the veterinarian for the very last time for humane euthanasia, feeling grief, guilt, and the pain of loss because our friend’s life will end shortly.
For some clients, the turmoil of emotions involved in the Last Car Ride is too painful to contemplate, and for the best of intentions, they elect to have their pet die “peacefully” at home. If the animal’s condition is not painful and their passing involves a quick and gentle fading away with no nausea, dehydration, agonal pain, or mental anxiety caused by fear of being helpless, then such a passing may be a kind option.
However, I have experienced distress myself on many occasions due to the owner’s imposition of a state of drawn-out suffering in a dying animal, which the owner does not recognize nor acknowledge since it is just too painful to do so. Cats and dogs are their own worst enemies when it comes to telling their humans about failing organs and crippling pain. Their instincts are the same as when they lived in the wild: thus, they do not whine and beg for more attention when very ill and in pain, but rather become silent, reclusive, and stoic. Some ailing cats and dogs still leave their homes to find a hidden spot to await death. In eons past, any animal who vocalized about pain would attract a predator drawn by the distress signals who would end the failing animal’s life. Depending on what the disability might be, the wild animal still dies in a few days, lacking protection from predators and the ability to eat. There is no such thing as a slow, drawn-out, cell-by-cell death in the wild, and to impose one on a pet is cruel.
Therefore, as our companions’ guardians, we must be sure that we are not prolonging their agony because we fail to recognize the suffering in our silent friends, and feel we are doing them a favor by stretching their remaining days as much as possible. Fortunately, the veterinary profession has created a new kind of service that permits humane in-home hospice and euthanasia services, where your pet feels safe in his/her familiar surroundings, is euthanized before the quality of life deteriorates, and you are spared that sad Last Drive. In the Albany area, In the Comfort of Home provides a very nurturing, respectful, and gentle passing for your pet: see www.inthecomfortofhome.com for a full description of Dr. Blankfein’s services. Nationally, the organization Lap of Love (www.lapoflove.com) provides not only home euthanasia, but also in-home hospice services for the terminal patient, where all attention to maintaining proper palliative care — pain relief, maintaining hydration, monitoring for disease progression — is focused so that the doctor can help the owners recognize when it is time. Please discuss this critical time in your pet’s life with your veterinarian to ensure the kindest passing possible.
Holly Cheever, DVM
NYSHA’s VP, Dr. Holly Cheever, is a partner in a small animal practice, the Village Animal Clinic, in Voorheesville, NY. She sits on several boards for animal issues, is a speaker and consultant across the nation, and has testified before Congress about animal abuse in circuses, as well as in New York City regarding the carriage horse trade.
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol. XXXIII, Fall 2018.