2017-02-17 / Pets

Making a difficult goodbye easier

By Gloria Glasser
Special to the Acorn

AT PEACE—Sierra, an Australian cattle dog adopted from the Agoura Animal Shelter at age 1, lived a long life full of love and play. Her final moments were peaceful and serene. 
Courtesy of Jacqueline Tobin AT PEACE—Sierra, an Australian cattle dog adopted from the Agoura Animal Shelter at age 1, lived a long life full of love and play. Her final moments were peaceful and serene. Courtesy of Jacqueline Tobin Just as we owe our pets a good life, we owe them a good death as well.

Life is full of all kinds of greetings and farewells and inevitabilities that we can’t outrun. For many of us, losing a pet can be as difficult to discuss as the loss of a parent, child or spouse.

There is no easy way to evade the sorrow and grief associated with losing a pet. But there probably are right ways and wrong ways—or perhaps better ways— to cope with the power that we as humans wield over our pets’ fates as we try to render a merciful end through veterinary euthanasia.

I was compelled to write this column to spare anyone the torment I have lived with for close to four years of making the choice to have a vet come to my home to render this service.

An acquaintance had “touted” this as a great balm. No cold metal tables and strangers milling around in a vet office cubbyhole but the comfort and familiarity of the pet’s home setting, surrounded by family. She said this had given her great peace.

My first dog had been put down on a stainless steel table atop a ratty towel at an emergency clinic while a vet tech loudly recited a rehearsed spiel about the “nobility” of a dog she’d never met until those last dire moments. This experience so troubled me that I vowed if I got another dog I’d never permit its life as my fun and loving companion to end in such a cold and desperate manner.

And of course when I got another dog I childishly embraced the notion she and I—as happy, fun-seeking playmates and adventurers— would never grow old or infirm, and this painful darkness would never encroach on our sunny life together.

I learned the folly of my heedless ways, and when all hope was gone for the young pup now grown old and incurably ill, I called a “traveling” vet I’d never met into my home to bring this most stoical dog the peaceful closure she deserved.

And the procedure rendered by the young aloof vet—who arrived hours late—did not go right, and in her final moments she felt pain. It was the startling prick of one of his needles, and it roused her momentarily in a reaction of discomfort and fear. I will be haunted all my days with guilt and regret that she suffered at the close of her spectacular life.

Then last month I accompanied my friend Jet and her dog, Sierra, to a veterinary hospital in Westlake Village. Sierra, age 14, had grown feeble, her body being devoured by lymphoma. We’d discussed and analyzed in preceding months the term “quality of life” and whether pet owners who “could not let go” were being cruel and selfish, or just severely hobbled by their heartache.

Unlike me, Jet is not an overtly emotional person and is admirably practical and sensible. She’d raised and lost many dogs since she was a teenager. It was not a first-time decision for her, yet she struggled.

I felt honored she asked me to come along. We had an opportunity to meet with a compassionate veterinarian, a professional and diligent man who had no prior history with Sierra and who patiently fielded our many questions.

In fact, everyone in the veterinary office was uncommonly caring and understanding. Their feelings for Jet and for Sierra seemed authentic. No one rushed Jet to make the excruciating decision that had brought us there that night.

And that night changed my life forever, because I learned what a “good death” was, one full of serenity and comfort rather than anguish. We had the staff’s attentive support and then privacy and ample time to say fare-thee-well to Sierra in a spacious immaculate room full of calm light and soft but not maudlin music. We never left Sierra’s side as she began, as Jet believes, her next journey.

I would encourage anyone facing a pet owner’s most heartwrenching decision to please thoroughly investigate all your options. Interview the veterinary staff until you feel assured your pet will be treated with the utmost compassion, dignity and respect. It is what our pets deserve for their enormous and matchless contributions to our lives.

Hospice of the Conejo now offers a pet grief support program at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of the month at 80 E. Hillcrest Drive, Ste. 204, Thousand Oaks. Call (805) 495- 2145 for more information.

Glasser is a writer fascinated by all manner of natural phenomena surrounding her home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Reach her at ranchomulholla@gmail.com.

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