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A Vet's View of Euthanasia

A dog looking at the camera

I’ve been writing my columns for about a decade now, and I believe that this is my most intimate and personal one.

The veterinary profession has a glorious halo to it. Many people dream of becoming a vet when they’re young, but sometimes life gets in the way and takes them to other places. I was one of the lucky ones that got to fulfil his childhood dream.

I went into the process with my eyes open and took into account that the job doesn’t only entail saving animals. I think the part that scares people the most is dealing with euthanizing animal.

I wasn’t any different. You never ever get used to it.

You never ever become numb when you witness people saying their last goodbyes to one of their family members. One of their closest and dearest beings. Their best friends whom they love and were loved by unconditionally.

However, my emotional maturation has transformed this process from a toll, a procedure that I dreaded and tried to avoid at all costs into a deep understanding that it’s a privilege.

Seeing someone that you love suffer is heartbreaking — witnessing your pet sick while knowing that there is nothing you can do. Nothing you can do to help and resolve the problem, take the pain away, get relief.

Seeing your beloved pet fading away and becoming a shadow of its own self is sometimes unbearable.

Hence, I see euthanasia as a privilege:

  • The privilege of being able to humanely stop the pain and suffering of a living animal.

  • The privilege of making sure that the process is done as gently and stress free as possible.

  • The privilege of allowing a pet to go to its final rest in the loving arms of its owners, or a loving staff member if the owner wishes not to be present.

Making the decision to euthanize a pet is the hardest part the owner has to take. And performing the procedure is the hardest part for me.

I am the one who facilitates the process and I need to be able to sleep at night knowing that I did the right thing for my patients.

You see, it’s not easy for me either. I also get attached. Some of the pets I knew from puppyhood, and got to accompany them along their entire life.

There were numerous licking, tail wagging and memories we shared. I also have a relationship with them and it’s truly sad for me. However, I made a pact with myself to always do what’s right for my patients even if it’s hard for me.

As for the owners, I can offer support and re-assurance that they did what is medically right for their beloved pet.

There is no one truth as to what is the right way to go. Essentially, it really depends on one’s beliefs and values.

Not everybody believes in actively making a decision to end someone else’s life. Some people believe in letting nature take its course.

I fully support my clients who take this approach and help them provide the best palliative care to keep their beloved pet as comfortable as can be.

Other people would rather be proactive, paying the price of enduring the pain of letting their pet go in order to shorten any suffering that may be involved.

For me, euthanasia is a hard part of my job. I don’t like it. I mostly feel so lucky and blessed to be able to help and cure animals.

Nevertheless, I recognize that I have to be brave and modest enough to acknowledge when I cannot help any more and it might be best for us to let go and say goodbye.

This is dedicated to Floyd the Mystic and his loving owners, and to all the pets and owners I was honoured to accompany during their hard, farewell moments.