It is one of the sad ironies of being a veterinarian in clinical practice that most of your clients are majorly unhappy to see you. (Retrievers don’t count, they’re always happy to see you.)
The reasons are obvious: vet clinics mean temperature taking, and shots, and cold tables. Trust me, I don’t much enjoy heading off to my doctor’s office either, nice as the staff is. Those awful half length hospital gowns they give you (ladies, you know the ones I’m referring to)- cold and humiliating. I’m here for something I’m not going to like.
While we vets are working on it through incorporating Fear Free Practice ideas into practice- thanks Dr. Becker!- we still have a long ways to go. Which brings me to today.
One of the most common things I hear from clients at a home euthanasia appointment is, “I just couldn’t bear to do this at the clinic. My last dog was shaking like a leaf when we went in for the appointment and I felt so terribly guilty afterwards.” And who can blame them for feeling guilty? Who wants their last memory of their dog or cat to be them cowering in a corner? How awful.
Not all pets feel this way about the vet, of course, but for those that do, it just adds another layer of emotional trauma to an already challenging time. Is this the pet signaling they don’t want to die? No. As pain management expert Dr. Robin Downing says, “Pets don’t fear death. They fear pain.” They are telling us they don’t like the vet, but of course we are only human and it’s hard not to extrapolate that to a bigger message that isn’t there.
So what happens in the absence of the clinic and the coat, when a pet meets me outside the office? A pleasant hello, usually. Even when I am there to help them transition. Especially when I am there to help them transition. I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting that.
I was reminded today of a lovely Golden I met last year, who was winding down a battle with cancer. When I came to the family home, their sweet girl was almost nonresponsive. As I knelt down by her side, she opened her beautiful brown eyes and gave me a huge, enthusiastic wag. We all stood there in shock, as she had not been able to do much of anything in the hours leading up to that moment. She did not fear death, or me.
In the absence of a preconceived assumption of vaccines and thermometers, pets are free to judge me based on whatever it is they perceive I am there to do. I cannot tell you the number of kisses, licks, wags, head bumps I get from pets who by all rights should be past caring who is sitting next to them. It means something.
It’s not, “Oh boy! THE DOCTOR IS HERE!”
It’s not, “That blond lady sure does smell good, like bacon.”
It’s simply this: I see you.
I know what a birdsong is.
And I am ready to hear it.
Sue W. says
It’s kinda early to be bawling. But I am. Again. What a beautiful post. Not sure why it is beautiful, but it is. You always touch me.
Gorgeous. Thank you for sharing.
Really beautiful, and true 🙂
My little 8.5 lb “force of nature” went to Kevin a week ago Sunday, very suddenly. He was just 9 but because of his difficult medical path in his first years of his life, I had promised that he would live out his days in peace and pleasure. So, I couldn’t stomach putting him through treatment for a diagnosis of presumed Hemolytic Anemia (everything else was ruled out) and I chose to say goodbye. Hardest thing I’ve ever done and might ever do, as far as I can tell from the tremendous pain in my heart; but I do believe with every part of me that it was the best thing and most kind thing for my peanut. We were at the clinic in what was designed to be a very comfy living room and they gave me so much time to say goodbye. My little guy went out with his favorite cookies on board and teardrops on his head. Gosh how I love him and miss him. Just wanted to share with you ’cause I’ve followed your blog for years and it helps to share the hurt with a community who “gets it.” Thanks for listening.
Dr. V says
Oh, I am so very sorry about your sweet little force of nature. IMHA is an awful, terrible disease and it steals them so quickly. Huge massive hugs to you and know we are all thinking of you both with love.
Thanks so much Dr. V. Just hearing your thoughts about IMHA as a disease gives me an extra measure of peace in believing I did the right thing by my boy. And the hugs are very appreciated!
this made me cry… at work… but in a sweet peaceful kind of way… thank you for bringing compassion and love into this world
Snowcone and Sue says
I have been haunted by the way I handled the deaths of two of my beloved pets. Years ago, I had a dog named Jimmy and the end of his 16 years happened in a dark time in my life. A few years ago, I had a big tuxedo cat named Floyd and I just couldn’t accept how sick he was. I feel that I could have made their passage so much easier if I had been more attuned to their needs and less focused on my own. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself. I appreciate what you wrote and I am determined that when my cat Snowcone is ready to leave, I will do whatever I can to help him pass without pain and fear.
SNow, I share your feelings of guilt. I’m a Vet Tech. I help talk to clients about these things, and give some suggestions as how to better “objectively” gauge when things aren’t getting better and when it’s time to really start thinking about euthanasia. Yet when my husband’s cat(yes, he became my cat during the last 6yrs of his life, but he was my husband’s cat for the first 13) started dwindling away, losing weight, not acting like his normal self.. I just didn’t push that conversation. I brought it up, I nudged. But I never really pushed hard enough. The day my husband said “It’s time now”, I brought my Vet friend home with me, but we were too late. And it’s bothered me so much since. It’s the one time in my marriage where I’ve BLATANTLY LIED to my husband, because it’s a pain and a guilt that I just don’t want him to have to feel. Remember this, you were dealing with everything going on in your life at the time as best as you could. Don’t Monday Morning Quarterback it. please. It’s hard, I know. Learn from it, remember how you want to “do it better next time”, and try to move on. I don’t judge you- you were doing what you could do given your circumstances. Don’t beat yourself up too much.. k? 🙂
Snowcone and Sue says
Thank you so much, Gaelowyn, for sharing your story. I will try to learn from this and appreciate your kindness……Sue
Dr. V says
Oh gosh, I just realized I didn’t respond to you. I’m so sorry. You know, I think the vast majority of people feel guilt for one reason or another- that we acted too soon, or not soon enough…I know I have felt it for my pets and there are a couple that I still struggle with for various reasons. I am trying my best not to change my mind about the choices I made, but to forgive myself for not being perfect in those moments…a wise person once told me that is what our pets would want for us, and I agree.
Cathey Avery says
I’m with some of the others here, I’m not sure why this post is so beautiful, but it is. Maybe in a way it’s birdsong for US – permission, if you will, to let go of our best friends when the time is right for THEM, in spite of OUR wants. Thanks much, Dr. V., I wish you were closer.
Dr. V says
Thank you Cathey! Your comments always make my day. (())