People often comment that performing euthanasia must be the worst part of our jobs as Veterinarians
The word, euthanasia, of Greek derivation, means good death. It is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain or suffering
Another word derived from the Greeks is apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death. As Benjamin Franklin observed, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” or one could adopt an even slightly darker view as did Freud who proposed that “the goal of all life is death”….From the moment a living organism is created, it is destined to die. If one avoids illnesses and accidents and lives for many years to a ripe old age, eventually something has to give. As those readers who may be advanced themselves in years or whom have cared for a geriatric will recognise, growing old is not easy.
As a family in October 2020 , we made the decision to put our beloved German Short Haired Pointer, Ella, to sleep. Ella was fourteen and a half years old. She had been part of our family from when our sons were little boys: a reliable, regular, welcoming, non-judgemental, grateful, happy presence. She was always pleased to see us, always keen to be a companion and never asked for anything back.
Being a larger dog, she developed degenerative joint disease in her hips and spine; a common issue in elderly dogs particularly in light of our Queensland style, high set homes with many steps. She also turned into a spontaneous “poo-dropper. Similar to Hansel and Gretel and their breadcrumbs, she would leave a trail of nuggets behind her once or twice a day. In addition she began to exhibit signs of cognitive dysfunction (“doggy dementia”). Her hearing and eyesight were failing and she was often unsure about where she was meant to be or what she was meant to do. As a family, we had discussed her euthanasia. It is an extremely hard decision, even for us as Veterinarians. I began hoping that I would awaken one morning to find that she had died in her sleep; something which (as a vet) I know is very, very unlikely to happen….It was when she started struggling to get to her feet and, given her habit of sunbaking in our driveway, as the weather warmed up, we realised we could not take the chance of coming home to find her dead of heat stroke after getting caught in the sun and panicking.
We bought her sausages and chicken thighs and she dined on these for 3 days. Then we all gathered together around her, placed an IV, patted and told her how she was definitely the best dog ever, as she continued to eat warm chicken until she slowly drifted off to sleep. Truly a good death.
Performing euthanasias (putting animals to sleep) is one of the most necessary parts of our jobs. There are very few professions in which one can have the privilege of caring for a living thing from a very young age until death. One of the hard things about having pets is recognising they age far quicker than we do. A puppy or a kitten starts off like another baby, it then becomes your best mate and, in the seeming blink of eye, you then need to recognise they have become a geriatric.
It is also our honour and privilege to have developed a bond with many of our clients. We are now seeing the 3rd generation of some of our amazing pet owning families. We have watched the children of our client’s become parents themselves. We are similarly on the third generation of many of their fur family members. Often we have shared a laugh, stories about our 2 and 4 legged babies. Heard about good times and difficult times and done our best to provide the best care and support at all stages of their pet’s lives. To be able to sit with them and support them and sometimes cry with them as we say goodbye to their special friends is, I believe, one of the most important things we can do.
For those who have had the misfortune of nursing someone suffering from illness or someone who is demented or someone who is just plain ancient, up to the point of death, the capacity to be able to elect for euthanasia is a godsend, making me question why, in many instances, we are kinder to our pets than we are to our fellow humans.
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