A place of passing

“I’m never going back,” I have heard more than one pet owner say. They are talking about the office of their veterinarian, a person with whom they have built a relationship for years, someone they like and trust. But their pet died there, and the painful memories are too strong. So strong for some people that they go and find a new vet, even if they liked their old one just fine.

It’s one of the reasons I like having the option that I offer, of performing in-home euthanasia and pet hospice with Paws into Grace. Because I know more than anyone that as much as the client hated the office that one time, many pets hated it every time. That can be pretty upsetting for some families.

Which leads to the next concern, one I hadn’t thought of until a client voiced it to me. “I don’t want to go to the vet office, but I can’t euthanize my pet at home,” she said. “I can’t have that memory associated with my house.” So sometimes those clients end up decamping to a third party location, a park or a beach. And I respect that decision, though I would encourage those who feel that way to think on it a little while before making up their minds. Here’s why:

1. The precedent has been set in human hospice for staying at home.

The gold standard in human hospice, for those who have adequate support systems in place, is for people to pass at home whenever possible. That is by far the most comfortable place for a patient, in familiar surroundings. I was with my grandfather when he quietly died on a rented hospital bed in the living room he called his own for 40 years. He hated hospitals and I’m pretty sure had we put him in one, he would have haunted us all.

2. Moving an ill pet can be a challenge.

Pets who are very ill can be nauseated, painful, disoriented, and uncomfortable. This goes for people, too. How many times have we been down with the flu and known that we should probably go to the doctor but we feel too rotten to move? Same goes for pets. Add in mobility issues and it is just one more stress for owners, especially with very large pets or very upset cats- no matter the destination.

3. Your home is deafeningly, loudly, overwhelmingly a place of comfort.

This is the place Kekoa died:

home1

But unlike a vet office where I might only have a handful of memories, I see this place every day and I don’t look at it as the place my dog died. I look at it as my living room, the place we opened Christmas presents, the place Brody plops down while I’m writing. It also happens to be the place Kekoa chose to settle down and leave this earth, because she knew as well that this is a happy place.

And you know what? It still is. I am glad she chose our sun dappled living room. At home, when I administer a pet’s sedation, they choose where they want to be: outside, in the kitchen, in mom’s lap. People find comfort knowing their pet selected the place they are most at home.

home euthanasia pet hospice

I’ve only been in this house a year and it’s had more than its share of sadness. I am looking at the floor where Kekoa died while sitting on the couch where Apollo died. I actually drove him home from the specialty hospital as quickly as I could- after he got lots of pain meds, so he could curl up on my lap after everyone got a chance to say goodbye.

But right now, it’s the place my dog is chewing up a toy and my son is doing his homework. This is our home, where life happens. And I feel good about that.

Want more info or to know if anyone in your area provides this?

Not all veterinarians even know this service exists, and information can be hard to come by. Here are two national databases of veterinarians that offer this service:

The International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Here in America’s Finest City of San Diego, you can of course reach me or my wonderful colleagues through Paws into Grace.

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks, Daily Life, Euthanasia/Hospice, Health, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , , ,
  • JaneK

    I would agree whole heartedly. It would have been wonderful to have my beloved pass on at home. But I love my vet even more for his loving care for me and my dog in those last moments. And his office does carry those sad memories but it also carries the memories of an outstanding friend who was there when I needed him. I can’t imagine going to anyone else…

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      That is wonderful. I would say the majority of owners who do say goodbye in the clinic *don’t* find it necessary to change veterinarians, fortunately. Having a clinic that understands the importance of the moment and allows you time, space, and quiet can also be a huge part of the equation.

  • E.A. Summers

    I’ve never understood the aversion to the location where a pet or person died. I’ve lost a dear dog at the vets office and at my home. I’ve lost a dear cat at a remote (to me) clinic where we went for specialty care. I don’t associate the location of the loss be it by euthanasia or other as a place to avoid or blame or anything.
    I am most comfortable with the euthanasia that occurred at home for my last dog. I know the spot. I sometimes acknowledge it to myself and send a prayer to dear Karl. It might be bittersweet but I love knowing that he passed peacefully in a spot that he loved. I would wish that for all my loved ones and also for myself.

    • E.A. Summers

      A caveat…after I hit post, I thought…well, those are my thoughts and feelings.
      Everyone is different – Grief, loss. all of it hits each of us differently. What is comfortable to me is not necessarily comfortable to someone else.
      My apologies.

      • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

        I don’t get that coming from an accusatory place at all. It was very nicely worded. :)

      • Marcie Newman- Perskin

        You said it eloquently and with Love

    • Marcie Newman- Perskin

      EA : My Budward and Butch ( both Big Dogs ) were out to sleep on my Bed on My Pillow

      • E.A. Summers

        Oh my… so loving and thank you.

  • Marina

    I can’t wait for your book!

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Thank you Marina! It’s with the editor now!

  • MelF

    I love that. As a former pet sitter, I often had clients tell me that their pet was happier and less agitated when they stayed home and I visited them than when they were boarded. Home is where comfort is and where love is exchanged on a daily basis. Home seems to be the best place to say goodbye – for both the pet and human. Great post Dr. V.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Thank you!

  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

    I’m SUCH a visual person I simply cannot do it at home. I do, however, have the bed upon which Lilly died (at the hospital) under my desk right now. I had to take our other dog to the hospital on the 2-month anniversary of losing Lilly. It was hard to be there, but I got through it … even with our vet hugging me. All 3 dogs we’ve lost in my adult life were euthanized at a hospital, but none of them hated the hospital. Our elderly boy now is a different story, so we’ll have to see what’s what when his time comes (which is fear is sooner than we’d hoped).

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      No! I demand that time not be soon at all!!

      • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

        Right? We’ll see. Doing a full-on OLD Boy exam next week. His spine is a mess. His heart is a mess. He coughed for 3 hours the other day. And, he seems to be showing signs of cognitive issues. Other than that, he is happy, eating, sleeping, etc. (wink) Our goal has always been 15. He’ll be 14 in May.

        • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

          I’ll be watching for the update. Spine a mess, coughing up a storm- he sounds just like me. (((( ))))

  • http://fur-licity.blogspot.com/ Barbara

    I also have a wonderful vet. Maybe next time will be at home, but for now, the vet’s office is a place where kindness, healing, understanding and treats are dispensed.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      I’m so glad to hear this: “the vet’s office is a place where kindness, healing, understanding and treats are dispensed.” I wish more people viewed it this way!

  • Shadowsrider

    My vet is fabulous. When I took our cat, Katana, in the last time I told them she wasn’t doing well, and this may be it. When I got there, they took me right into a special room, no sitting in the waiting room. They examined her, and told me it was congestive heart failure, and nothing could be done for her. The kindest thing was to let her go, but they let me make the decision. When I did, they got a can of yummy wet food for her, and as she chowed down, they slipped her the sedative. Her last conscious moment was eating delicious food and being held and petted. What could be better? Then after she was gone they left me with her as long as I wanted to say goodbye.
    The room they have for this has an outside door, so you can leave and go to your car without walking back through the lobby.
    In every part of this I felt their concern, empathy, and professionalism. I had no hesitation to go back.
    Thank you for writing this, and reminding us of this option. I would always prefer the last moments be of comfort, not stress or fear.
    When the time comes for my older dog (who hates going to the vet office, and pants and stresses the whole time we are there) it should come on his favorite bed, in the sun, with me there holding him.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      None of the places I’ve worked has had a dedicated room, and I really wish they would. It would help, a lot.

  • Cathey Avery

    Great, Great post. I can add nothing to what has been said below, except to say that I hope this post gives even one person a way to give their pet their favorite place at the end. Because it is, at that point, about our companion, not ourselves.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Thank you Cathey! I had a discussion the other day with an owner who I couldn’t assist as she was outside my service area, but I told her about how to make the experience at the vet better and she had no idea you could ask to sit on the floor with the dog, or bring in blankets, that sort of thing. We vets need to do a better job empowering owners to make this experience as minimally stressful as we can, no matter the circumstances.

    • E.A. Summers

      YES!! It is about them, not us or our pain, but them and all they have given.

  • EdieJ

    I am so glad you told people about the wonderful service you provide. Everyone has different feelings about death, and every pet has a different relationship to the family vet. I loved my vet, but Frankie hated riding anywhere in the car and the vet was not a favorite destination, to say the least. When I learned about veterinary hospice, I was hugely relieved. Of course I remember the place where I said good-bye to Frankie, and sometimes the sad occasion, but as, you say, it was also the place where wonderful things in his life occurred.

    Thank you for doing what you do.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Thank you Edie. I appreciate so much that you have worked so hard to help people be more aware of hospice.

  • Annette Frey

    As with everything else, it’s all very individual.

    I had a long conversation with our vet, about 2 weeks prior, and put a plan together. We would meet on the grass by the river, one of Lambchop’s favorite local places to romp.

    When that day came, just like you said, it didn’t seem practical for mobility reasons and for comfort. When the time came I decided that “out in public” wasn’t right for him. Although we were “out” all day (we brought his bed out), it was a beautiful day. We tried to see if he’d rally, if he’d eat, if he wouldn’t fall down when he walked. Everyone in the neighborhood seemed to know what was happening. People came over and petted him and gave him love. When the vet arrived , I carried him upstairs (I was told the line of vet, tech, husband, and a friend was like a processional behind me) and put him in my lap – another favorite place for my (big) lap dog. It was right.

    When I came out later that day there were candles lit in our doorway and notes left.

    I don’t ever think of this as the place Lambchop died. It’s more the place he “lived” and chewed raw bones and curled up with us at night….

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      I love that the whole neighborhood got involved. Thank you for sharing that- and I think you make such an important point, that flexibility and recognizing your pet’s needs on that day are the primary consideration.

      • Annette

        Thanks Jessica. Yes, the flexibility in the moment is important but it was equally important for me to have that plan beforehand, during that time…. everything in it’s time I guess. I liked knowing what will happen, even if it didn’t.

        • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

          I absolutely agree that having a plan in place ahead of time does SO MUCH in terms of helping families have peace of mind- I meant flexibility only in terms of the smaller things (location, etc.) Knowing the who, and the how, and things like aftercare arrangements ahead of time is a huge benefit to families.

    • Marcie Newman- Perskin

      RIP Beautiful Lambchop < 3

      • Annette

        Aww, thank you Marcie!

  • Marcie Newman- Perskin

    I have Always Done this w/ my Animals If G-d did not take them in his fashion I Have a vet who comes to my Home and we do it Spiritually He lets me take All the time I need and if I am that overcome he will return a few hours later and leave us together for a Longer time Vets for the most part Dont Get it . They say they do ~~A PLACE OF PASSING is a Gift They are our Children ~ They Are Our family <3

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      They are our family indeed. Thank you!

  • kamnel

    The biggest piece of comfort I have is that my beautiful gentle giant passed away in front of a big window, in the sun, watching the woods and being surrounded by the humans, cats and dogs he loved and loved him.

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      It’s truly a blessing to have that memory be one of peace and calm.

  • Michelle Cotton

    I’m one of those lucky owners whose vet has a dedicated room, with a door to the outside so you don’t have to walk through the lobby. I’ve only had one baby who passed there (since we moved here), and while it was still awful losing her, I have to say the staff was wonderful.
    My two current big furry babies love going to the vet. I think it helps that I introduced them both to the office through their doggie daycare service for a few weeks. They associate that with the building and not shots or bad things. My big boy also happens to adore his vet, who gets down on the floor with him for all of his appointments (he’s a 120lb lab/mastiff).
    For me, I’ve always thought that the surroundings didn’t matter as much as them knowing their human was still there, loving them, in that last moment. When I let go of Cheyenne she died in my arms after giving me one last kiss. That’s what I remember about her death, not where I was.

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve had to have several pets euthanized and never even thought to ask if it was an option for the vet to come to our home. I will in the (please, very far distant). But I’ve never felt an association with the vet office was tainted by a pet having been euthanized there, I think because each of the vets has been so sympathetic, letting us stay as long as we wanted with the pet – and at least one cried with us. On the other hand, our first dog died of bloat at a kennel and we didn’t find out until we came home (pre-cellphone days). No chance to say goodbye, no ashes to bury under a new tree or shrub. We could never use that kennel again, although I’m sure they did all they could – they had their vet call us to assure us nothing could be done, but we could never pass that kennel again without feeling grief.