Euthanasia

Kai has been gone from our lives for 6 months.  I still find it hard to believe.  The pain is still very real.  Things like seeing a German Shepherd dog walking down the street or hearing Elli bark remind me of him so much.  We were so blessed to have him in our lives.  As our first dog as a couple, we couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

Now you may wonder why I have a cat as my image for this post.  This picture is of Halley.  She passed away in the Summer of 2005.  She was a great cat with so much personality and none of it was your typical snobby, aloof cat stuff.  She slept curled around my head and followed me around like a puppy.  Great gal!

Her death was different from Kai’s in that is was a scheduled euthanasia.  I wanted to share a bit about what I know about euthanasia with you from my time in vet tech school as well as from my own experience.  Halley is the only pet I have seen euthanized, but it is a very vivid memory so if you have questions please ask.

What to expect:

-You will be asked to sign a release form.  If the terminology is unclear, ask for clarification before signing.

-You will need to decide on one of the options available for the remains of your pet.  You can take him home and in some areas bury your pet in your backyard.  You can also opt for burial in a pet cemetery.  Cremation is an option as well.  Group cremation means your pet will be cremated with others and the ashes are then spread over a garden or other location.  In private cremation, your pet is cremated alone and you receive the ashes back usually within 1-2 weeks.  We opted for cremation for Kai which was about $190 for a 95 pound dog.

-It is usually best to pay for things beforehand, but in some cases the office may bill you.

-You will also need to decide if you wish to be present during the procedure.  Some people opt to stay, other do not.  There is no judgment from the vet or the vet techs.  Please do what you want to do, but do take the time to say goodbye to your animal.  Generally, you will be allowed to sit in a comfortable, quiet room with your animal to take the time to say goodbye.

If you do stay, the vet or tech will discuss in detail what will happen during the procedure and they will tell you what is happening as things progress.  Things that may happen:

-Vocalization from your pet.  It may make noise, but this doesn’t mean that it is in pain.
– Your animal may appear to breathe even after it has passed due to the positive pressure in the lungs.
-Urination and/or defecation may occur.

Please ask questions if you have any.  The doctor and the vet tech want to assure you understand what is happening.

The actual procedure:

-The doctor will inject the animal with the euthanasia solution via IV.  The IV is usually placed beforehand by the tech. 
-It takes 5-30 seconds for the animal to die.
-Usually there is one last breath and respirations stop then the heart will stop.  The animal becomes limp and may lose bowels.  There may also be muscle movement.  The doctor will listen to the heart and pronounce the animal dead.
-You will then be given time to be alone with your pet.  Please take all the time you need and express your emotions.  Don’t be afraid to touch your pet and say a final goodbye.

 Some additional things to know about euthanasia:

-The vet and vet techs cannot make the choice for you when it comes time.  It is illegal for them to make that decision for you and inappropriate.  They can give you the information you need to come to your own decision as well as the compassion and understanding you need at such a tough time in your pet’s life.

-A vet can refuse to euthanize your animal except in certain legal situations.  If he or she refuses to euthanize that should tell you something about the pet’s quality of life at the time.

-Please don’t ask the vet or tech to lie to your children about what is going on.  Also I am not a fan of the term “putting the animal to sleep” especially when it concerns kids.  It may seem like a gentle way to tell a child what is going on, but it doesn’t give them the full scope of things.  They may expect your pet to wake up or come back home.  Of course, what you tell them really depends on the child’s age and comprehension, but I believe in honesty.

When Halley died, we opted to stay with her.  The time before the euthanasia we had with her was bittersweet.  She had been sick for a while and spent some time in the hospital so we hadn’t seen too much of her over the last several days.  I wish she had more time at home with us, but she was just too sick and needed professional care throughout the day.  It was wonderful to pet her and hold her, but knowing she would be gone so soon was very difficult.  She was no longer eating or drinking on her own and had lost a lot of weight.  Her organs were also failing.  She was a very sick kitty and rather than have her suffer we opted to have her euthanized.  We spent a lot of time with her that afternoon.

The vet talked us through what was happening as the injection went in and she died very peacefully.  The vet stepped out of the room and gave us as much time as we needed.  I remember picking her up and being hit with the reality of what had happened as her body lay limp in my arms.  We left the hospital and Mark called when we got home because I was so worried she was all alone in the exam room and they would forget she was there.  In hindsight, of course, she was gone so it didn’t matter, but I wanted her body to be taken care of respectfully.

We opted for private cremation.  When we picked her ashes up I didn’t know what to expect.  I asked the receptionist before she brought them out, because I didn’t want to be handed a Ziploc bag full of remains.  If you have never picked up ashes for a pet before, how are you to know?  We received her ashes in a lovely wooden box that was inside a cloth bag.  This will vary from place to place, but you shouldn’t worry about being handed something awful when you get your pet back.

Her ashes spent a long time right next to my bed.  I had her on a windowsill near my head.  I wanted her near me.  She now sits atop a mirror shelf in our bedroom.  I think of her often and miss her like crazy.  You were a great cat Halley!

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