It was painful to watch our dog, Ezzy, deteriorate during the long confined months of 2020. We had treated the 9-year-old Blue Merle Shetland Sheepdog through various illnesses during his lifetime, including one that required a trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night. His joints were loosening, so we had invested in a stroller to allow him to continue enjoying the walks. But now we could see that just lifting up to access her food bowl or crouching down to use the bathroom had become visibly uncomfortable.
This sparked a difficult family conversation about quality of life. It was time, we thought, and made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize him. But there was a silver lining: We were able to do it in the way that was best for Ezzy and for us: in privacy, comfort and, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the safety of our home. .
Here are some things to consider about home euthanasia if you are faced with this difficult decision.
– The house offers animals a humane and respectful environment
My husband and I had covid-19 work-from-home orders, which allowed us to bond even more with Ezzy, and her with us. Being at home with us, in her favorite place and with her favorite people was when she was happiest, which made her the compassionate choice for her final moments.
As Maryland Veterinarian Karen Randall says, âWhere do you want to be when you’re not feeling well? You want to be at home. And for dogs and cats, home is their sanctuary; it is their safe place. These are the people they trust. These are the things that smell like them. This is where their place of happiness is. “
These are among the reasons Randall, who came to us in November to peacefully put Ezzy to sleep, founded Solace Veterinary Services ten years ago.
At the time, Randall, now 30 in the field, could have opened her third brick and mortar practice. Instead, she felt called to focus solely on home euthanasia services after occasionally offering home visits to some of the clinic’s long-time patients. âIt was really mind-blowing how much easier it was for the patient and also for the family,â she says.
Like Solace, practices such as Peaceful Passage and Tranquility Vets are small and regional, while Lap of Love is a provider with a nationwide network of vets. If you’re not sure where to start, the Hospice Palliative Care and Euthanasia Home Pet Directory can put you in touch with local providers.
Psychotherapist and thanatologist Andrea Warnick underwent euthanasia both in clinic and at home when her cats were terminally ill. “I think [at-home euthanasia] is a great option, because at this point a pet is quite sick, and taking it to a vet can cause anxiety and be uncomfortable, âsays Warnick, whose practice in Canada, Andrea Warnick Consulting , focuses on supporting children, youth and adults.
– It relieves stress for families and ensures privacy from grief
The loss of a pet is often underestimated as a traumatic event in life, says Claire Bidwell Smith, grief therapist, author and speaker. Your stress will be alleviated if you can stay home. âEspecially with pets – because they are so dependent on us since we are their caregivers – we feel the added responsibility of caring for them to the end. If it’s this chaotic stress that we fear is going to happen. it causes more pain, so it only causes us more pain, âsays Bidwell Smith, who is based in Charleston, SC
In a veterinary clinic, we are likely to consciously suppress our grief, which Warnick says can be harmful. âThe essence is that, as humans, we are designed to cause grief – there is no pathology. It’s rooted in our love and holding it back and not allowing ourselves to express it is. much more harmful. ” The home provides a safe haven to facilitate a âhealthy grieving processâ.
Being at home also provides a tranquil environment which Randall says is precious. Saying goodbye can take time. She won’t rush, often staying with clients for a few hours. Logically, one can know that death has occurred, but the body remains and there is a connection, she explains: “The head and the heart are not the same beings.”
– It allows you to prepare and include children
The home environment can also give children the time and space to deal with their pet’s death. Warnick suggests that you let your kids decide if they want to be there, after explaining in detail what’s going to happen. Be frank and leave nothing to the imagination, avoiding euphemisms such as âbelittling,â she says; whitewashing what is happening would undermine your children’s confidence. As Bidwell Smith points out, losing a pet is often a child’s first experience of dying, and perhaps their first exposure to the concept of mortality. The importance of honesty cannot be overstated.
You can tell them that the procedure is usually quick and, unless a pinch when the sedative is given, is painless. First, the heavy sedative is administered, which causes the animal to sleep deeply. Then a final injection – a concentrated barbiturate – is given directly into the vein, which stops all brain activity. Randall says it’s a peaceful process. Two potentially disturbing effects that children should be aware of are that the animal’s eyes may remain open and sometimes muscle relaxation leads to urination or defecation.
Parents can also take this opportunity to teach children that it’s natural to fight after someone we love is gone, says Warnick. Modeling healthy grieving means crying with your kids and letting them know that when people are sad, it’s not their job to solve the problem, but just to support them. Conversely, she says, “a kid might be devastated for five minutes and then run off to play video games, and that’s pretty healthy too.”
– It allows you to incorporate meaning
Randall, who has taken several bereavement education courses, worked with hospice care and hosted several pet loss support groups, says pet euthanasia may be the case. one of the most difficult decisions we face.
Once you’ve decided it’s time, make an appointment several days in advance, as last minute slots are more difficult to obtain. In the period leading up to the date, you may experience what Bidwell Smith calls “early grief.” Randall explains that grief doesn’t start with the death of a pet, it begins when we know death is approaching.
But it gives you time to prepare. Randall emphasizes the importance of the “where”, encouraging families to consider one of the pet’s favorite places in the home as the place of their last moments.
Leading a ceremony or ritual can be therapeutic, says Warnick. Poetry readings, candles, and a photo exhibit with favorite toys are just some of the ways Randall has attended the pet memorial. âWe really need rituals to go through these types of life transitions,â Bidwell Smith says.
– It is particularly useful during the pandemic
During the pandemic, the demand for home euthanasia has increased, Randall says. The Covid-19 restrictions have made clinics “much more open to referrals for the service we offer,” she adds. Home visits follow covid protocols, including requiring masks and practicing social distancing.
– It can be expensive
One downside is that home euthanasia costs more. Liz Bales, a Philadelphia vet with over 20 years of experience, says that while it’s difficult to compare prices, owners should generally expect costs 30-50% higher than in-office euthanasia. Randall charges $ 350 for the visit, and cremation is an additional cost, ranging from $ 175 to $ 350 (we paid $ 650 in total).
– It’s not for everyone
Some owners find this approach too personal and the idea of ââtheir pet dying at home distressing. We’re all different, Randall notes. And for those who are more comfortable with their pet dying at their local veterinary clinic, Randall is reassuring, explaining that there isn’t a clinic that doesn’t do its best to make the end of life. as easy as possible for pets and families. âWe don’t want the animals to suffer,â she says.
– It does not guarantee closure
Our decision to have Ezzy die at home did not ease the pain or necessarily hasten recovery. âThe shutdown is a bit of a myth,â says Bidwell Smith, whose parents died as a young adult. She doesn’t think that we ever âput backâ those we lose and that while grief doesn’t last forever, the loss is something we hold.
Randall believes that while it can be helpful when the environment is peaceful and gentle, it doesn’t take time out of the grieving process. âWe know that grief is proportional to the relationship you’ve had with a pet,â says Randall.
Yet Randall considers home euthanasia to be so valuable that she considers her work with Solace Veterinary to be the most rewarding period of her career. “There are a lot of cases where people don’t have a choice of how their pet dies, but when you do, I think it’s such a gift. I really do.”