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The Best Possible End

Losing a Beloved Pet: How to Make the Loss Less Difficult

By Dylan M ParkinPublished 2 years ago 4 min read

One of the things I’ve learned about being responsible for the well-being of animals is something they don’t typically teach in animal behavior school: What to allow used, or not allow used, at an animal’s end of life. Years ago, I and one of my dogs suffered irreparably as a result, so I’m going to share what I learned in hopes that others won’t suffer a similar fate.

Most people who love their pets and want to protect them from undue suffering will eventually need to rely on euthanasia services to give an untreatably ill pet relief from untreatable and unrelenting pain. In such cases, most people rely on their veterinarian not only for the euthanasia service itself, but for the choice of method. That’s what I used to do. Until about 5 years ago.

That’s when I learned, through shocking, unnecessary suffering, exactly what to request for my pets and what to avoid. I learned the hard way that there are less and more painful methods, less and more modern, acceptable drugs, and so on. I suggest taking the time to fully educate yourself about the euthanasia process and modern best practices now, before you need them.

First, be aware that there are vets who make home visits for this purpose, and some of these are specialists in just this service. Whether you decide to go to your vet’s office or have a home visit instead, you’ll still want to take certain preparatory steps. Here are my suggestions:

Before taking your pet in for euthanasia or having a vet come to you:

1. Research the many methods by which euthanasia is currently legal in your area, and what the potential risks and discomfort levels are for each, versus the benefits and comfort level of each.

2. Make a clear, specific agreement with your vet regarding what method will be used, using what medications, handling procedures, timing, and equipment. (If you don’t like what is suggested or feel concerned about the suggestions, request your own specific preferences.) You may even decide to have your agreement in writing in your pet’s file before it’s ever needed. Keep a copy on hand for reference in time of need.

While traveling to the vet’s office and while with the vet:

3. Try to avoid doing anything to or around your pet that is different from what you would normally do — this is to avoid causing alarm. For example, don’t remove your pet’s collar before the procedure. Don’t start removal of your pet’s beds and other items before s/he is gone. Et cetera. The idea is to avoid any changes that might signal to your pet something unusual is coming. You want to try to reduce the chances your pet will be scared at the end, and your mindfulness can help assure that.

4. Be there for and with your pet the entire time. Pets who trust and are bonded with their humans probably want their humans present to help them feel safe and happy during any vet procedure. (That might also mean hiding your own fear and anquish during the procedure — to avoid scaring your pet, who might not know what is about to happen.)

5. At each increment of the process, confirm with your vet and vet staff what you have agreed on, and continue to confirm in advance that it is exactly what is happening every step of the way. For example, regarding injections, ask your vet to get your consent in advance of giving an injection, and to explain to you (and get your confirmation of approval) what it is, where it will be given, and how it will effect your pet in that moment. This way you can ensure what is about to happen is what you intended. Do include making sure you have time to say your goodbyes to your pet while s/he is still able to know and respond.

6. Stay with your pet as long as you need to afterward.

7. Before you leave, make sure your vet and you agree on exactly what is to happen with your pet’s remains and exactly how. For example, there are individual and group cremation (and other) options, and you’ll want to be sure you choose what you’re most comfortable with. If you plan to bury your pet, make sure it’s legal and safe where you are, and follow the precautions necessary to protect other pets and wildlife from harm related to medication or other exposure risks.

8. Take as long as you need to grieve. Grief does not keep to a schedule. You might find that grief is a more of a roller coaster than a straight-line road. Grief may not have a defined endpoint in its structure. Grief may become less overwhelming eventually, but that doesn’t mean the hard spots are gone forever. Sometimes there will be inclines and sudden, deep drops, which are also normal. Some might find it helpful to use these times to also honor the memory of your pet and your good times together.

By taking these steps, you can minimize avoidable regrets and help ensure that your memories of your beloved pet are mostly happy ones.

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    DMPWritten by Dylan M Parkin

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