A man and his daughter arrive with the daughter’s kitten. The kitten is not feeling well, they tell me. She hasn’t eaten for several days.
I examine the kitten, who is dehydrated and depressed. Her belly is large and pendulous. “Where did you get her from?” I inquire. The shelter, they tell me as they watch me pull several cc’s of straw colored fluid from her abdomen.
We talk about FIP, a nasty disease with a very poor prognosis. The young girl, probably 7 or 8, nods solemnly. She knew something bad was going on, looking up at me through her tears with the sad eyes of a child who has known loss before. I leave them to talk.
The nurse tells me they have decided to euthanize the kitten, and I go back into the room to talk to the family.
“Where’s your dad?” I ask the girl.
“He’s waiting outside,” she replies.
“Are you going to stay with your kitty?” I ask her, and she tells me that she would like to if she can. She is upset, looking small and alone with an even smaller and more alone kitty in her lap. I excuse myself and find the father.
I ask him if he is going to go back in the room with his daughter. “I can’t,” he says. “I got this kitten for my daughter before her mother and I divorced. It’s just too hard to watch.” He adds that he is OK if his daughter stays, though.
A lot has changed for me in the decade I’ve been practicing. I’ve learned about people as well as about animals. I’ve learned about loss, and the resilient children who surprise you and the adults who fall apart who also surprise you. I’ve also become a mother, and maybe that has made me better in the role as loss counselor. Maybe it has made me worse. I haven’t decided which one yet.
So I look at this stranger in the eye and I tell him, “I’m sorry this is so hard for you, and I mean that sincerely. But I need you to go in there and be there for your daughter. She needs you more than you need to be out here.”
Did he have to be there? Yes and no. Could I have done it without him? Probably. But I know things now that I didn’t know before, and as mother, as well as someone who remembers what it was like to be 7, it wasn’t the right thing to do.
He looks at me with an unreadable expression, and goes back into the room. I euthanized the cat. As his daughter holds the lifeless kitten, he holds her, her head leaning on his shoulder, supported by him. He walks out holding his daughter by the shoulders, and nods at me.
I did not know going into this field how much harder this part is for the men than the women.
oh my gosh, im sitting here in tears right now. i work at a vet clinic as well and i still tear up when we have to euthanize kitties. i think it wont matter how many years ill be at a clinic i will probably always cry a bit 🙁
At a time when it’s the norm to just let people “do their own thing” in these situation, you did the right thing. Her father needed her to be the father and not the divorced person. That’s what being a parent is and sometimes, it ain’t pretty, but that’s how children learn to do the right thing themselves. (Though I suspect this little girl already knew that as she was willing to stay with her friend through the process.) I”m hoping you can help them find a new little furry friend for that brave little girl.
Sue W. says
Wow. Powerful. Good call, Dr. V. Good call.
Georgia Jewel says
You absolutely did the right thing, Dr. V. Thank you on behalf of that little girl. Hopefully, her father will grow up a little bit.
Lisa W says
+1. What a sad story and what a brave little girl….
No words, just tears. 🙁 What a sad experience for everyone involved!
As someone who was once seven and whose father was more prone to caring for his own feelings than being there for me, thank you! Thank you for reminding him that his responsibility is to his child, to help his child and be there for his child even if it hurts him. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Now where’s my tissue?
So sad , lots of tears here , that poor little girl and the poor kitten .I am so glad that you asked her Father to be there for her. The other sad part is , that you had to ask him. you are so wise Dr V . Thank you for being there for your patients and their families.
My daughter spent quite a few years considering being a vet. She decided against it because, “I know I can deal with all that needs to be done with the animals, I just don’t think I can deal with the people that own them.”
You rock, Dr. V. ! Good for you, doing the harder thing by letting that daddy know where he belonged.
Shauna (Fido & Wino blog) says
Thank you for making him stand beside her in a moment like this. This will be the kind of thing they both remember forever.
I, too, applaud you for doing the right thing and making that father do the right thing! I remember someone saying once when others expressed an unwillingness (yes, unwillingness) to face difficult circumstances: ‘Well how nice for you that you can just ignore it, when the person going through it cannot.’ That has always stayed with me. It seems, though, that this father learned something that day, and appreciated your efforts on his and his daughter’s behalf. I thank you for doing the right thing, and for helping the poor helpless kitten the best you could 🙂
Nothing like starting the day with tears. Thank you for making the father man up and remember that it’s not all about him anymore: that changed when he helped bring a child into the world.
Susan Montgomery says
Thank you for taking a stand Dr. V. Most vets I know would have let him stay out there, the whole ‘keep the paying customer happy’ thing. But you did the right thing, and everyone benefited. That daughter now knows her dad will be there for her, and he now know he can comfort her in loss. Powerful stuff.
I think while that little girl lost something dear to her, she also gained a father and an experience they will both remember for years to come. Thank you!
Jennifer A. Stewart DVM says
Wow, well done Dr. V. So many practitioners lack the umph and experience to see this through. You never now how a person will respond but you acted from the heart and by all appearances the gentleman responded and probably grew from that experience. Hugs to you and your staff.
So sad, but such a powerful story. Thank you for having the courage to speak to the Dad and tell him to get with the program. Keep up the good work; the world is a better place because of people like you.
I’m so glad you told the dad to go back in. That little girl is so brave…
Oh wow. Reading stories like this about having to let go of a kitty just breaks my heart into a million pieces, while simultaneously wondering how in the heck you are able to handle it as a Vet. Do you eventually become a bit hardened so that you don’t break down in tears every time you have to euthanize a cat? Or is it hard every single time? Its so hard for me to imagine.
I’m so glad you went out and told the Father to come back in. I’m astounded he didn’t figure that out himself in the first place.
A couple of nights before we had to put my cat to sleep last year (end stage renal disease) my night-owl boyfriend took my cat outside in the middle of the night, and carried him on one last tour of our neighborhood in which my cat had wandered so happily for the past year that I’d lived there, so that the cat would get to be outside one last time. I cry every time I think of it, but it further cements my belief that I found the right guy in my life.
I’m so, so glad you told the dad to get in there, and I’m so so glad he did the right thing. Hopefully he’ll remember this lesson and next time someone won’t have to tell him to grow a pair and be a father.
I work at an animal hospital and it’s always the men that get to me the most, especially when it comes to euthanasia. I applaud you for making that extra effort to make this experience as painless as possible for that little girl. Good for you. I haven’t worked yet with a vet that I could say would have done the same.
Vicki in Michigan says
It was about the kitten. And then it was about the little girl.
BRAVA for telling that dad to suck it up and get in there. It was NOT about him, with two others much higher on the list!
Those who have said that both he and the daughter will always remember that he WAS there for her are totally correct. Thanks to you, both of those people will remember that he was there for her, rather than weaseling.
You did the right thing, and that made him do the right thing.
Good on ya.
You are courageous, DrV. Well done. That little girl will remember this day better now, thanks to YOU.
pissant weenie dad.