Recently I said goodbye to my dear dog of 12 years. Sadie was a lively Wheaton cross we adopted from the SPCA 11 ½ years ago. She was our first child, a family pet that grew up with my children.
Sadly Sadie developed a brain tumour that affected her ability to swallow and walk. For several months I was able to manage her condition with pain medication, frequent meals, laser therapy and acupuncture. Eventually her condition declined to the point where she could no longer coordinate herself to walk without falling and the pain medication no longer provided her comfort. Sadie’s quality of life had diminished to a point where the kindest thing for her was euthanasia.
I discussed this with my 7 and 9 year old children. They are children who have unfortunately witnessed the loss of both my parents and their great aunt by cancer so knew what dying and death entailed. However what I was unprepared for were the questions they had about euthanasia. The concept of this was foreign to them: “How do you know today is Sadie’s last day? What does euthanasia mean? How are you going to put her to sleep?”
I explained to them that Sadie was in pain and could no longer enjoy any of the things she loved doing and there was not a way to make her better. I then explained that in the veterinary world we can help our animals transition from their suffering to death with a medication so she would not have to suffer through the next several days. This made sense to my children and they did not want Sadie to suffer any longer.
I explained to them the process and as a family we decided it was best that they did not stay for the procedure. They hugged Sadie goodbye one last time before going to school. Our animal health technician from the veterinary hospital then met me at my home to help me with the process.
Sadie was first given a sedative to ease her anxiety and then she was given the euthanasia agent, a barbiturate, intravenously. She was able to lie peacefully in her bed for the entire process.
People remark that euthanasia must be the most difficult part of my job. I actually feel very lucky that I am able to provide this for my patients. The word euthanasia is derived from two Greek words; eu, which means good and thanatos which means death. I feel when I perform euthanasia a ‘good death’ is what I am providing. Our pets do not contemplate the past and think to the future. They live in the present.
As veterinarians we help pet owners provide quality of life for their pets by helping to maintain their health, treating their illnesses when they are sick, and providing pain relief and therapy when they are hurt. There comes a time in every pet’s life that we can no longer provide this for our pets, when their illness overtakes their quality. At those times I am grateful I can be part of the transition from illness to death so that the process can be one free of prolonged suffering.
This became most evident to me as I sat with my devoted companion for the last time. As sad as it was to say goodbye, I was glad I was able to be by her side and to ease her from her pain.
Thank you for being part of our family Sadie.