Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

All Dogs go to Heaven

by User Not Found | Feb 09, 2014

When someone wrote me and asked me to write a blog on euthanasia, my response was quick, Uh, No.  But the more I thought about it and talked with this person, the more I realized the need for this type of discussion.  No one wants to talk about this subject, but it’s something that we all have to face as dog owners.  Despite our aversion to talking about it, it’s probably one of the most important times we need each other to lean on.  In fact, it’s likely we will face it many times over the course of our own lives.  But we love our dogs the way that they love us, unconditionally and with our whole hearts.  We know that it’s both a blessing and a curse to be able to help them leave this world without suffering and there are a host of personal emotions that come along with having to make that decision.  Those of you that have been through it know, but there are many who have not.  There are resources out there and support groups to help you, in your own way, deal with the grief of losing your furry family member.  Neuse River is just one of those resources and in a time of hurt and sadness, being in the company of those that truly understand your loss can make an incredible difference.

My goal with this blog is not to dive in to the stages of grief and dealing with the loss of your pet, because it is so personal, but rather to spark a discussion about how things have changed and improved in end of life care of our dogs.  There are many people who have asked me “How do I know when it’s time?”  “What do I do?” “What happens to my dog after Euthanasia?” “How do I care for my dog who is terminally ill?”  Although there are a number of experiences and opinions about these things, my hope is that you will at least be aware of your options and the avenues to find the help and support that you need in these situations.  It is a completely personal experience and you have to decide what’s best for you and your pet.

Alice Villalobos, DVM, a renowned veterinary oncologist developed and introduced a hospice program for pets or pawspice.  Dr. Villalobos created a scoring system to help family members and veterinarians assess quality of life which includes Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness and Mobility and More good days than bad.  This scale is known as the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale or QoL scale.  As your dog’s caregiver, you should keep a diary of the QoL scale to assist you in the very difficult process of making the final call for the gift of euthanasia and painless passing for your furry family member.  There are other versions of this scale but all involve a grading or ranking system of each of these qualities on a scale of 1(poor) to 10(best).  A total score of less than 35 is considered unacceptable and 35 to 70 is considered acceptable.  The scales and numbers can vary, so make sure your scale identifies and defines these criteria.  Most of these scales also provide descriptions about each of the terms, hurt, hunger, hydration, etc to help you be objective in your grading.  You can also add categories based your pet’s specific needs.  For example, do they have heart failure?  Perhaps you want to add “respiratory rate” or “breathing rate” to help with your assessment. 

There are in-home euthanasia services available and many of them provide pawspice as well.  This usually means that they will visit your home and provide your pet with medications to help with pain management or other medical issues.  When it’s time, they can euthanize your pet without a trip to the vet office.  But these visits also come with a sometimes hefty price tag, so be sure that you do your research before you get to this point.  Local services have tons of great information about what they can do on their web sites, so start your google search there.  Some people just feel more comfortable in this setting with their regular vet who has known and taken care of their pet to handle this time, so think about what you want and what is best for your pet before that time comes.  In-home services  are a comfort to some pet owners who may have a reason that they are unable to bring their dog to the vet office, like not be able to lift their dog in to the car.  Also, ask your vet office or your neighbors if they would be willing to help you in these types of situations.  As a vet tech (in my former life), I would often drive to an owner’s home to help them get their dog in the car or even pick them up on my way in to work for their annual visit and then drop them off at the end of the day.  The great thing about dog lovers is that they bring us together and, more often than not, are willing to help each other out, especially in times of need.

If you make an appointment for the euthanasia procedure, be sure to schedule at a time that won’t be hurried.  I suggest asking if it can be the last appointment of the day or the first one in the morning.  It’s ok to go in to the vet office before bringing in your pet and make sure that they are ready for you.  It’s not comfortable to be sitting in the waiting room until your scheduled appointment.  Also make sure that you ask what your options are, like burial or cremation.  You don’t want to be forced to make this decision in the moment, so be sure to gather all this information way ahead of time, including prices.  Burial is not typically offered by vet offices and if it is, it’s often in a place where you can not visit your pet.  Most vet offices offer cremation, either communal or individual.  If you wish to have your pet’s ashes returned, you would opt for individual or private cremation and the vet office will arrange that and call you when you can return to pick up the ashes.  You may be surprised at the size of the box containing the ashes, but remember that our bodies are 95% water!  Remember, this is your pet and you can do whatever you want to ease the transition of this loss.  I’ve seen owners who have a favorite photo or flower go along with their pet for cremation.  And one last thing, you might want to have someone there to drive you home.  It’s an incredible emotional experience and concentrating on driving will be the last thing on your mind! 

Euthanasia is a solution that terminates nerve transmission.  When nerve impulses are not conducted, there is no thought, no sense and no movement.   It is given intravenously, or through a vein and it is quick and painless.  You pet may take one breath, about 6 to 12 seconds after the injection, that is deeper than the others and then go completely relaxed, hence the term, “put to sleep”. 

You should consider thinking about whether you want to be there or not.  It is such a personal choice, but I will offer one observation.  There are many owners who have expressed to me their regret for NOT being there when their pet passes and express guilty feelings about it.  So, think very carefully about how you will feel after your pet has passed and whether or not you will have regrets if you decide not to stay.  No one is comfortable with death, not even the vet or the staff, but don’t let uncomfortable feelings push you to decide whether or not to be there.  I’d like to share a personal story about my first job as a vet tech and my choice not to attend vet school.  “I don’t think I can handle that whole euthanasia thing.”  I ended up not going to vet school for that reason, but I did take the job as a vet tech, in a job crunch, and my first euthanasia experience was with a golden retriever named Darby.  She had kidney failure and was not eating and very depressed.  Every morning her owners would drop her off and I would take care of her, sitting in her run with her feeding her whatever parts of my lunch I could get her to eat.  But we knew after a few days that she wasn’t turning around.  Her owner made the tough decision to end her pain and she peacefully crossed the bridge with her family, me and the vet by her side.  I held it together and hugged the family, but the moment I walked thru the door and Gus came bounding up to me, I burst in to tears.  I was sad of course, but I knew that Darby wasn’t suffering any more and I was glad that she had such a wonderful family to make that tough decision even though her time with us was just too short.  After that I stood by many families and their pets during this tough time and gained a different view of euthanasia, one of peace and a relief of suffering.  It doesn’t make it easier but it does help us heal.

Some people feel a very strong and long-lasting sense of pain and grief losing their pet.  The human-animal bond is deep and experiencing these feelings is perfectly normal.  But it is often complicated by others who don’t understand because they are not bonded with their pets the way that you are.  “It’s just a dog”, “are you still sad about that?” “Just get another one”.  It may make you feel reluctant to share your feelings and this can be isolating.  Our pets are THAT important to us and you don’t have to apologize for the way you feel!  There are many resources available to help you cope.  Our own NC State Vet School offers a support group for those that have lost a pet and need to talk about it.  There are numerous websites that have helpful information and can provide additional resources that can help you move forward and process your feelings.  Most importantly, you are NOT alone.

Here are the best pieces of advice I have heard and can give to anyone who is wondering when it is time to give their pet the gift of a peaceful passing. 

Every pet, their illness and their/your situation is different.  We can talk about the available options and resources, but again, only you know what’s right and what’s best for you and for your pet.  Talk to someone objective, whether a vet or a friend, to make sure you are keeping perspective on the situation.  Emotions can interfere with what is really happening and no one wants their pet to suffer.

Remember that pets live in the moment.  When you leave the house to get the mail and you’re literally gone for two seconds and your dog goes nuts like you’ve been gone for years?  That’s living in the joy and happiness that he/she feels right now.  They don’t think about all the days leading up to today or ponder what the future will bring, all they know is how they feel today.  Keep that important point in mind when you are thinking about the right time to let them go.

Measure their quality of life.  Use the quality of life scale to help you.  If you notice that your pet seems “off” or maybe is slowing down, start keeping a diary.  After a few days go back and read what you wrote, is their condition worse? Better?  Invite a friend over that doesn’t see your dog every day, do they notice anything?  You don’t have to let them make a decision for you, but it’s another opinion and more information to help you assess your pet’s good days and bad days.  Use X’s and O’s on the calendar to mark good days and bad days, then review them after a few days.  Pick the top five things your dog likes to do.  If he/she can’t do three or more of them, then quality of life has been impacted and at the least, a trip to the vet is in order right away.

I love what I do for NRGRR even though sometimes it involves having these hard discussions with fosters, adopters, my friends and even my own family members.  Sometimes you just need someone who is objective and can help you talk through all the scenarios and sometimes you just need someone who can listen.  It will never be easy, but our dogs have been there for us every day no matter what kind of mood we are in and I’m sure that was no picnic either.  We have to look past what is hard for us, think selflessly and be there because you do know what’s best for them.  Then, come to an NRGRR event, get your doggie fix, talk to us about how it sucked.  We’ll cry with you and hug perfect strangers (yep I have) and when you’re ready, we’ll help you find another loyal friend.

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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