Dealing with pet bereavement
Sometimes there are no words….
Recently a pet bereavement was really tough on me. Don’t get me wrong all of the pets that we either put down or are reported to have died affect me. We love all our little pet patients and always will the best for them. When people ask me how do I do it, I think the response is, I only want the best for them and if relieving them of suffering means euthanasia, as hard as it is, I genuinely believe
I am doing the best for the pet and owner. That’s what gets me through.
Some people may read this and think perhaps I’m silly or over the top but I’m hoping that maybe one or two people will read it and find some solace in it or even just allow them to grieve the loss of their pet.
On 26th June 2018, I had to put to sleep my Cara. She meant the world to me. She had a short and tough cancer battle, 5 weeks to the day after she was diagnosed, we gave up her battle. She had chemotherapy and it worked so well in the beginning, it gave her 3-4 really good weeks, weeks that I would never give up now. Then it became clear the cancer was winning and my baby girl was suffering.
It was a Tuesday. After work. It was 25 degrees in the hot weather even in the evening. We were out in the fresh air in the garden of our home.
Anyone who met Cara knows she was so obliging. She knew when I was coming to do something (she was the dog of a vet in fairness). She had this little eye she gave me every time I did worming, vaccinating, ear cleaning, teeth cleaning, etc. But that’s all it ever was, a little eye, then she would sit or lie in front of me without restraint and let me do whatever it was I needed to do.
Afterwards she would run around like a maniac – I used to always say it was her telling me that’s what she wanted to do in the first instance. Through her chemo she had blood samples and catheters in her vein for her drugs and each time, without a whisper she sat giving me ‘the eye’. I was so proud of her in every way. So when it came to this final decision, I had offers from vet friends that they could be the one to do it if I didn’t want to, but as kind as it was I would never have accepted.
How could I be there for all my beautiful patients at that very poignant and important time and not for Cara. I knew that even though she didn’t want the little catheter prick, she would be so much more at ease if it was me. I don’t know for sure of course but I believe she trusted me. Every time I had to do something she always seemed like ‘well if you think it’s necessary… get it done now so I can run around.’
I learned a lot of things that day. I stepped over to the other side of the table in a way. I became the pet owner or pet parent. I fulfilled my role dutifully as a vet but in all other ways I was the pet owner. I screamed and cried. My heart broke in two. I asked ALL of the questions that I so readily hear in those moments with pet owners.
Was it the right thing to do?…
Am I a terrible person?…
Is she definitely gone?…
Did she feel anything?…
I learned that these questions are almost a reflex. Before this day, I often thought that these questions were an inquisition of me as a vet, did I give the right advice and did I do everything properly. But they came out of me as a reaction to the pain I was feeling. I knew the answers to all of these questions.
Yes, it was absolutely the right thing to do, it may have even been a day too late, I accept that.
No, I’m not a terrible person, if I was I wouldn’t care for her to the best of my ability and take this step which was truly awful for me, but in her best interests. I know that Cara would have died with the cancer and starvation because that day she couldn’t eat or drink anything, that would have been horrible.
I checked that she was gone, and then I rechecked that she was gone and maybe even a third or fourth time. I knew it with my own two ears and I still questioned it, so obviously this is so natural for owners to ask me. They are relying on me to assure them, again and again if need be.
In my sincere and honest opinion, I know that dogs definitely feel the catheter prick. We put in tens of catheters on a daily basis and some seem to feel a prick. As with everything, some pets react more than others. But thankfully it seems to be that the majority are ok with it. I believe this to be the painful part for the animal over with, I don’t believe they feel pain after this. The drug is an old anaesthetic drug, so I know that they are under anaesthetic first before the end.
My husband and I sat with Cara beforehand and he was holding my hand and her head during it. I went as far as to ask him, how are you ok with it? How come you’re not crying? About 20 minutes later I learned another truth. When I went into the back hall and found him in the dark sobbing.
He was me in this setting. He was holding it all together for my benefit at the time and dealing with the heart break later on his own. I feel professionally I must always hold it together at that time for clients and deal with the emotional part of it later on my own terms.
That was the first day of my pain. I learned that the loss of Cara was a long journey for me. This is what I really wanted to share with others. That there is no right way to grieve. There is not a date or time that you should be ‘over’ her. There are different stages but it’s still grieving. And to never, ever be afraid to grieve the loss of a pet.
I am afraid that some will read this and think, sure it’s only a dog, and it would be worse if it was a person. I definitely do not discredit that. But neither would I like to discredit someone’s grief. Losing a loved one is the ultimate heart break, but often similar threads of emotion take hold of people with pet loss and I just want to acknowledge that also. Often people grieving a pet will feel guilt over being upset, as if they shouldn’t be acting this way or feeling these emotions because it’s not a person, they should feel lucky that it was only a pet.
I only wish to reach out to those dealing with pet loss. It has taken me a long 12 months to talk about all this. In the beginning I cried a lot. Most often on my own or with my husband. I longed to see her again. In the beginning there were no words that soothed the pain. One day I happened upon the paw print I took of her that day and grief washed over me. I had lots of these little set backs that I needed to pick myself up from again and deal with it over again.
That day I closed the book on the print and set it aside. Last week I was able to take out that print and smile proudly at it. I’m going to have it framed now that I can look at it and not feel pain, just love and memories. I believe we should be proud that we love our pet’s that much. I think we should never be afraid to grieve and we should be there for one another. We should talk about what pains us. I think owners feel that their relationship with the vet should end once the pet is deceased, but I beg to differ.
I would hope that anyone suffering the loss of their pet can always feel comfortable to reach out and contact me in the days, weeks or months following the decease of a pet.
Take care everyone,
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What is Microchipping for?
From April 2016, it has been a legal requirement for all dogs over the age of 8 weeks to be microchipped. If a dog is found not to be microchipped, then owners can face a fine up to £500. The microchip is a small electronic chip which is implanted underneath the animal’s skin between the two shoulder blades. It is a quick procedure which can be carried out at Cara Veterinary Clinic. We have a sample microchip on display for owners to see, if you would like to see what a microchip looks like call into the clinic.
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