As I prepare for my third year at IAAHPC, the veterinary hospice conference, I’ve taken pause to reflect on this journey and how it affects the way I view veterinary medicine. Personally, I have only euthanized a personal pet in a clinic (versus at home) one time.
It was Nuke, my vet school coonhound, and he was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma just a month after I graduated and came back home. The veterinarian was lovely and did as great a job as one can do in that situation, but so many memories still stick in my head:
-They asked me to come in at the end of the day, ostensibly to make it easier for me. It meant I had to wait all day and then sit, sobbing, in rush hour traffic. It wasn’t what I preferred, but I was too tired and sad to realize I should have asked for what I needed.
-They took him in the back to place a catheter. I get it, I did the same thing throughout my entire clinic career. It’s definitely easier for the staff. I would have preferred to be with him the whole time. After doing it by myself in people’s homes with no backup- yes, it is perfectly possible.
-After I left, they took his body and placed it in a black garbage bag in the freezer until the aftercare place arrives on their weekly rounds. I know, because we all do this. Every clinic I have worked at does it this way. It is just the way it is done.
But does it have to be?
I know that the answer is no. I know that there are options out there that so many people want, so many ways we can better respect the dignity of our patients and clients before and after death, and we owe it to you all to let you know they are possible. Veterinarians have many reasons for not offering them, and they are not invalid concerns:
- They are more expensive
- They take more time to organize
- Most people do not want them
While many if not most clients are fine with the process the way it is, it hurts me to no end to know that so many people are still unaware of the myriad additional options out there to help your pet at end of life and to ease your pain as a family through the process. You may have to advocate for yourself, prepare, and find these options on your own- trust me, after having to advocate for my mother to get into hospice when it wasn’t offered as an option, this is kind of a universal problem.
To that end, I’d like to share with you my End of Life Bill of Rights- the things that you as an owner have a right to ask for and, after having worked with so many like minded colleagues now for several years- I can tell you that someone out there is equipped to provide you with:
The Right to Refuse Treatment. If your pet is suffering from a terminal disease, you have the right to say no to chemo, or surgery, or radiation. I believe in my heart that most veterinarians out there support clients in that, but there seems to be a lost-in-translation moment where so many owners feel pressured into heroic measures they were not prepared to take, emotionally or financially. This does not mean I am advocating to neglect an ill pet in suffering- quite the contrary, I am advocating for aggressive and patient focused comfort care.
The Right to Pursue Treatment. On the flip side, if you want to take your pet to the best of the best and do everything in the book possible to change things, it’s your call, not ours. We can offer you guidance and advice, but our job is to help you make an informed decision about realistic outcomes.
The Right to Have Your Family Involved. Unfortunately, some veterinarians still actively discourage families from having children present during euthanasia in the clinic. The emotion makes them uncomfortable and is disruptive. It is a clinic-focused way of thinking that is not focused on family needs. This is a once in a lifetime transition, and you need to do what you need to do. Many clients do not want their children present, which is fine- especially for kids under 5 who don’t understand what is happening- but it should be your choice. What your children see and hear- or don’t see- will live with them forever. If you don’t know how to approach the conversation- there are many, many professionals who do, and they have excellent resources to help.
The Right to Impeccably Respectful Aftercare. Most people don’t want to know what we do with a pet’s body afterwards. If they ask, I would tell them, and assure them we are as respectful as we can be. I believe in transparency. Nonetheless it is a disturbing image to many, myself included. If we can’t be honest without feeling like there’s a need to cushion the blow, why not change it? Especially when it’s such an easy thing to do?
More recently I have worked with a local business that doesn’t use bags or hold pets onsite; pets are wrapped in a clean white sheet and transported directly to the crematory facility, with the family knowing that the position their pet was last placed in is how they will remain. Yes, it costs more. And yes, many people are happy to pay it for that peace of mind. Some clients of mine transport their pet directly to an aftercare facility themselves, or have a trusted friend do it, because that chain of custody is important to them. These are all valid options.
The Right to Die at Home. The first time I went to a hospice conference, it changed everything for me. We can do so much better by our clients. In-home hospice and euthanasia veterinarians are changing the landscape of the profession, and providers exist all over the world. We are trained to offer not only medical support, but we are able to direct your family to the compassionate emotional support you may need, through chaplains, grief counselors, and support groups. We can offer palliative care options when medical treatment is discontinued- as in humans, we have a wide array of comfort care support that goes far beyond a pain pill here and there that can ease the discomfort of end of life.
And when the time comes, you will be at home, in a safe place, with those around you that you need. I bring blankets, candles, music- things that might not be practical in a busy clinic but, in a time of grief, provide small but vital bits of calm through all the senses. For those who experience euthanasia in a clinic, you also have the right to take the time you need, to make the environment what you need it to be for you. It matters. Your bond matters, too.
With love, Dr. V
Last night I got to rock out at the last North American stop of the Guns n Roses “Not in This Lifetime” tour. In a moment that made me realize just how old I’ve gotten, I realized the last time they played San Diego- in 1992- I was also there. I was in high school, high on life (and probably a few other things unintentionally, as tended to happen at those arena shows), idealistic about the future. Guns n Roses was the biggest name in rock at the time, at the height of their fame and the zenith of their success.
Things fell apart for them shortly thereafter.
Axl Rose spent the next two decades litigating with his former bandmates, holed up in a mansion somewhere getting plastic surgery and churning out less than awesome music. While his star faded, the rest of us went on with our lives, going to school and having careers and starting families. You know, growing up. Such is life.
I had low expectations for the show, to be honest. The band fell apart due to Axl’s temperamental nature and the shows often started three hours late and ended after one or two songs. When he was on, he was ON, and the rest of the time he was a disaster. He was the rock god equivalent of the vet who burns out in a flame of glory and leaves veterinary medicine forever to hole up on a lake somewhere to nurse their wounds in solitude. (Not that I know what that urge feels like, of course.)
I was not the only one who gave this reunion short shrift. The first time he walked out on stage at a warmup show, he broke his foot and everyone said, “Oh, here we go. This is going to be a disaster.” There’s a reason Spinal Tap was a cautionary tale, they said. Once you leave something great, you’re done. You can never go back. This is no longer going to happen:
The murmurings were nonstop: Axl’s had a ton of plastic surgery. He looks old (hint: he is, as are we all.) His voice isn’t the same. He can’t move his hips the way he did when he was 20. The band still all hates each other.
All of this is true.
But they went out there anyway, and played a monster three hour set despite the creaky joints and the lower octaves. They came out on time and nailed everything. It was like being back in 1992 except even better because I can legally drink! When’s the last time you sat in a packed stadium arena listening to a power ballad with fireworks onstage and a 10 minute guitar solo? It was before cell phones for sure. And it was awesome. Yes, things changed, but a lot of those changes were for the better.
There’s actually something super metal about getting old and refusing to let people stop you from all the stuff you’ve been told you can’t do any longer. About getting up in front of a PACKED stadium with your face looking exactly like what everyone said it would look like and singing about your serpentine with your hips moving exactly two inches in either direction and waiting for the cameras to zoom in on your before flipping everyone the bird- and hearing them all cheer. That takes some brass ones, my friends.
In 2012, a reporter asked him if Guns n Roses would ever get back together and he replied, “Not in this lifetime.”And yet here we are, a little older, a little wrinklier, a little wiser, and clutching our Zippo apps that won’t burn your fingers in lieu of the actual lighters.
You can change your mind. You can go back. You can embrace what time has changed and laugh about it and refuse to apologize for it and kind of love it. It’s the only way to live, really.
I never in a million years would have thought Axl Rose would be doling out inspirational life messages at 54 years of age but I guess I was wrong too. It’s never to late to burn down the house.
Hello! I would like to congratulate you on the roaring success of Tesla, in particular the Model X. I see them driving around when I’m out walking my dog and I spend a lot of time daydreaming about one day driving one of my own out to the dog park, with my dog’s one ear flapping in the breeze as we race down the road.
Perhaps you might be saying to yourself, “Goodness! What’s keeping you from buying one, then? Aren’t you a veterinarian? I hear they’re rolling in dough!” Crazy, right? I hear that too. It’s a common misquote. What those people meant to say is, “Rolling in debt.” I do know one or two vets who are doing ok, but I think their spouses work in real estate, so there you go.
But we don’t mind, because we love animals. Day after day after day, people come to us for animal related goods and services and ask us, “Don’t you love animals? Because if you did, you would just give me this care for free.” And if we don’t, we are BAD BAD PEOPLE WHO HATE ANIMALS, and that sounds like an awful thing to be. Just check Yelp! You’ll see.
At first, I thought that idea was hogwash, but after so many years of having it repeated to me I thought that maybe I just missed the part of civics lecture where they taught us that no exchange of cash for goods was necessary if the person who has the goods loves animals, because that is just what you’re supposed to do.
So the rule here is, if I really really really want something and you have it and you also love animals, you need to give it to me. I know it sounds nuts, but ten years of experience here can’t be wrong. It’s what the people expect.
Here’s the deal: my car just hit 150K this month and I’m hearing a weird clanking noise that makes me nervous. And yes, I could save up on my own or pick a car in my budget, blah blah blah, but clearly this whole Animal Lover Loophole thing is a widely used shortcut to free stuff, so I figured I would give it a shot before heading down to the used car dealership. I’ll even take the, uh, “cheaper” Model X 60D that just came out, I’m not picky. 😀
I’d hate to see my sad, adorable, one eared dog stuck on the side of the road in this summer heat if I break down. We need reliable transportation befitting his status as Super Awesome Dog. Does Elon Musk like animals? I think we all know what the right thing to do here is.
I’ll be eagerly waiting your response.
I’ve teamed up with Clorox to bring you some pet health and safety tips for the summer. Over this week and the next I’ll be sharing some info on Facebook and Instagram about household germs and infectious disease prevention. Bottom line for me is, keep it simple!
This post is sponsored by Clorox.
“Simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1848
We spend a lot of time in our lives looking for the next biggest thing that’s going to make our lives easier. What’s more efficient? Safer? Better? In doing so, we ironically end up making life ever more cluttered and complicated, piling up more things and creating increasingly complicated rituals that are anything but easy.
I work every day to help make animals healthier, but a big part of doing that means giving people recommendations they’ll actually follow through on because they are easy and effective.
I can give you a textbook on preventing the onset and spread of diseases, but do you really want that? You lead a busy life. It’s hard to follow a 15 page cleaning handbook when you have dogs, kids, and soccer practices to deal with. Let’s simplify things:
- Keep your pet safe through routine veterinary care and vaccination.
- Keep your environment safe with regular cleaning and disinfecting.
Dogs are messy. They get into messes and spread messes and sometimes that includes bacteria and viruses. Gross. The good news is, you don’t need a closet full of specialized Doggie Cleaning Solutions and Fido Wipes to keep the bugs at bay. All you need is ten minutes of your time and an item you probably already have in your house (just like the one in the photo, which was in my laundry room long before I started this campaign!)
There’s a reason animal shelters and humane societies across the country list bleach as one of their top wishlist items: It works, on everything from nasty bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli to the dreaded viral disease canine parvo. It’s inexpensive. It’s easy:
10 Minutes To a Safer Home
Did you know that a study by NSF International showed pet bowls and toys were in the top ten most germy items in the house– worse than toilet bowls and cutting boards? If you have pets, you can use Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 at home to sanitize their crates, pet bowls and toys.
- Disinfect hard non-porous surfaces and accessories with a solution of 1/2 cup product in 1 gallon of water. For pre-wash surfaces, soak or wipe with bleach solution. Allow solution to contact surface for at least 10 minutes. Rinse well and air dry.
- To sanitize pet food containers, wash bowls with detergent and rinse. Fill bowls with a solution of 2 tsp of Clorox®Regular Bleach1 per gallon of water. Let stand 2 minutes, drain and air dry.
For more pet tips, check out my 5 Steps to Keep Your Furry Family Safe From Germs.
 Clorox Master Label
If you’re ever in need of an escape to reset your head and find a little bit of peace in the chaos that swirls around you, I highly recommend Thailand. I have lots of stories and photos to share about the elephants I met, but today I have a different story to tell.
Although not quite intentional, when I planned this trip I realized I was returning the day before my son’s tenth birthday, which is also the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. To spend the two weeks leading up to it in a dream fugue of green hills and silent Buddhas was a serendipitous gift that I really needed, because otherwise I would be at home, reliving those long painful days.
Partway through the trip, our group left the elephant sanctuary for the day and travelled to a small offshoot, where the park personnel were working with a large group of macaques. These monkeys, over a hundred of them, had been seized from the streets of Bangkok by the Thai government and were set to be sold to a laboratory before the park founder intervened and took them in to the sanctuary with little more than two weeks’ notice.
It is, to put it mildly, a large undertaking.
When we arrived, a small cadre of volunteers was upgrading the enclosures and getting a handle on one of the first orders of business: neutering the male monkeys. This is necessary for a variety of reasons; behavioral, and the fact that as adorable as all the babies were, they didn’t need to add more to the mix.
But needless to say, the monkeys themselves were not as thrilled with the idea. They are smart. They know what the little blowdarts mean: someone gets sleepy and goes away for a bit; and they were really, really good at evading them.
Two unsuccessful hours in, as we were still watching the goings-on and waiting for someone to neuter, a small motion caught my eye. It was a bright orange butterfly.
Butterflies have long been my mother’s favorite creature; it is impossible for me to see one and not think of her. They are, and always have been, her avatar. And I, who had been studiously avoiding getting into my head on the topic, had no choice but to sit and think about her.
The butterfly eventually flitted on further into the field, slowly and lazily as if to wait for me to get the hint, so I followed.
I vaguely heard people calling after me as I wandered off, but my attention was turned elsewhere: The field this butterfly had led me to was alive.
I had never seen so many different butterflies all in one place; the green ones that looked like leaves caught on the wind; the orange one that flew like scattered flower petals; the small grey ones on the ground that sat like pebbles until, unfurling their wings, they revealed themselves to be blue.
I didn’t even notice the one on the left at first; a camouflaged creature, hiding in plain sight, watching over the three remaining orange butterflies.
When I saw it, so hidden yet just as real as the remaining three, it hit me so suddenly that my breath caught. A whisper on the wind as clear as day: She is here. She is always here, all around you, and your dad, and your sister.
I hadn’t been expecting such an obvious revelation, and certainly not in what appeared to be an empty field, but I seem to require very deliberate signs from the universe in order to pay attention.
Eventually Teri came bushwhacking to scrape me off the riverbank and let me know a monkey was ready for a neuter. I had found a riverbed where the butterflies swirled, and in that silent contemplation, I was able to get up and go back to the insanity of our lives.
If grief were a color, it would be slate. Not an angry obsidian black, or a peaceful dove grey, but that shapeshifting silver somewhere between black and white, a stormy sea that some days seems blue, others almost brackish, depthless and impossible to truly describe.
If it were a shape, it would be a spiral, a shape you ride on in a neverending loop of centrifugal force splattering you against the wall whether you will it or not, bringing you back again and again to the same spot, from a slightly different vantage point.
I imagine that grief counselors are well versed in this, which is why every bad day seems to be preceded by a call from the chaplain, who senses it like a dog knows an earthquake is coming. The last one had come just before Christmas.
“It’s Chaplain Gary. How are you?”
“Fine.” And I am fine, until I remember that I’m supposed to be upset, and then I am.
The most recent call came on the one year anniversary, if you can call it that, of the date my mother became ill. The season has returned to set the backdrop for the nightmare month of May: lengthening days, long afternoons, and the scent of blooming jasmine wafting over the chairs in the backyard that I’ve rarely gone to sit in since the night my mother died. When I sat blankly until 2 am, staring at a candle and wishing for her parents to come and spirit her away from this earth as her breath rattled slowly away.
We went to the beach for Mother’s Day last year, spending a night in an oceanfront bungalow that would normally be way too indulgent for an innocuous holiday, but I had a rare and terrible gift: knowing that this was my last one.
I had only this one day into which I must pour every future Mother’s Day of which we were being robbed. And because I had to continually remind myself to be there in that moment, instead of thinking ahead to the years her chair would be empty, I could notice things I would probably not normally observe in my hypervigilant state: my mother’s hair, so different from mine, her dainty nose which I did not inherit, the way her hands would gently enfold the kids whenever they came into her line of vision. She was beautiful inside and out.
And Here We Are
One year later, I’ve come full circle to that spot I knew I must return to, and dread. It’s been there all along, these memories, receding into the shadows of the changing season and coming out again this spring to say hello. I see my friends post stories and pictures with their mothers, having recently entered into that comfortable spot in life where they can be totally honest and laugh about anything, and I feel an almost painful sense of longing remembering the small moments with my own mother I had come to treasure.
We met for lunch often, once the kids were older and in school. Our lunches were something my husband would always dread, because they were always followed by wandering into a store where she never, ever, ever talked me out of impractical things. Because of her, I own a snazzy chain link belt and a pair of Frye boots that I would never have bought on my own. It’s a silly thing, boots, but I love them. They suit me, as she said they would. They are happy boots. They are sad boots.
I know, because people have been tremendously generous with sharing their own stories, that this longing for more time will never go away. You never entirely forgive the universe for taking a treasure from you, even when you know anger is useless. It sucks and it will always suck, even when I’m an ancient crone cruising around on a walker.
But I cannot be anything but grateful that I had a mother whose love was so encompassing that to lose her has left me devastated. How many of us worry that if we were gone, no one would care? She never did.
Every year was a gift and a marvel. While her physical form is gone, Mom surrounds me in a thousand little ways, from the whistle of a teakettle to the smell of a cookie, the joy in a beautiful sunset, the strength to do what needs to be done. She’s here. In some form or another, love remains.
To those celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend, my love goes to you. Take a deep breath and really experience it, be you the recipient or the giver. And if you are hurting and dreading the day, don’t be afraid to run away from the brunches and the flower shops, the rituals and the intact families, the resentment and the sorrow. Find a place that brings you peace. Buy some sad boots. Go to the beach. Sit in a forest. Sadness means you loved deeply, and that has its own kind of beauty.
And wherever you go, don’t forget to take your dog. 🙂
Yay, big news I finally get to announce-
I’m a Season 3 Expert on Nat Geo’s Animals Gone Wild!
I shot the episodes over several days at the end of last year, giving commentary on a bunch of wild animal videos. (None, by the way, showing people harming or doing irresponsible things, which was a condition of accepting the gig.)
It airs Fridays at 9/8 C on NatGeo Wild starting this week- please tune in!! I hope you enjoy it! And for those of you who are in on the bandwagon of the Instagram celeb vet who used to be a model, he’s one of the other experts too, so there’s something for everyone.
But if you tell the channel how much you love the experts, do me a solid and add in “especially the lady vet.” 😀
In April 2015, Kristen Lindsey, DVM, shot a cat through the head with an arrow and then posted a picture on Facebook with the following caption:
“My first bow kill … lol. The only good feral tomcat is one with an arrow through it’s [sic] head! Vet of the year award … gladly accepted.”
These facts are not in dispute. Why she did it, however, is. This is why she is currently testifying in an administrative hearing in order to try and keep her veterinary license. At its heart is the question, “Is there any justifiable reason for her to have done that?”
The answer is no. It is an unequivocal no.
I have avoided commenting on the topic because once the image went viral, the reaction was swift and potent. She has received death threats and her family has been harassed. What she did was horrific and wrong, and sending death threats is also horrific and wrong, and I didn’t want to embolden the sentiment that might encourage one more person to do so.
I have yet to read a single sentiment from the veterinary community that attempts to defend Lindsey. What I have read, and it reflects my own views, is that her actions are utterly condemnable and she needs to be removed from the profession. Physically attacked or threatened? No.
But Please, Please Go Away
The reason I am speaking on this now is to clarify the position that just because many of us have not clamored to do the same to Lindsey as she did to (what most presume to be) Tiger, this does not mean we want anything to do with her in the profession.
This was a career-ending action. There is no place in this field for a colleague who thinks it is 1. appropriate to do this in the first place and 2. post it on social media. There just isn’t.
Had she simply disappeared under the radar and gone on to find a job in a non animal-related field, I would never have even written about the case. But she didn’t. She is fighting to keep her license. The VIN News Service is sharing the testimony on Facebook and it is alternatively sad and horrible and infuriating.
She is continuing to try and justify her actions based on what she thought the cat was (feral, intact, rabid, it keeps morphing.) There are no justifying conditions.
She is arguing that if she loses her Texas license, she will not be able to get licensed anywhere else, that she is unemployable. That is a consequence she brought upon herself. The only remorse she has expressed is for herself.
She has forced a hearing at which the presumptive owners of Tiger have to come in with lawyers, be cross-examined, and again view what happened to the cat. She is continuing to cause distress to these people by forcing them to participate in this hearing.
I will continue to state forcefully and with great passion that I do not think violence, or even threats of violence, are an appropriate response to a violent act. But I will also state forcefully and with great passion that Dr. Lindsey, we do not want you in our profession representing what we work so hard to do every day to better the lives of people and animals.
It doesn’t really matter what the board decides in terms of your license, I highly doubt you will ever practice again. So please, for the sake of everyone involved, please- stop this fight to stay within the field. You’ve already shown yourself out.
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