The question I am asked most often about my work is, “Isn’t is hard to put pets to sleep?” What people really want to know is how do veterinarians handle the emotional stress of euthanasia and death. For more than a decade, I have been a veterinarian in hospitals throughout the Twin Cities. I’ve helped countless pets and pet owners through the process of euthanasia. I have cried with my clients, laughed while we shared stories and hugged them as they grieved. I have seen first-hand the raw emotion and dedication people have towards their furry companions. Euthanasia is the most difficult and yet the most rewarding part of my job in some ways. It can be an enormous burden and, at the same time, a huge weight lifted. To help pets pass peacefully and with dignity is the final and greatest gift I can give them.
About a year ago, I lost a patient named Rosco. He was an older yellow lab with a huge heart and gentle soul. I remember sitting with him after his family left the exam room, grieving and yet feeling relief that his suffering had ended. I remember feeling humbled and honored that his family trusted me with his care as his cancer consumed him. I also felt relieved that I could help Rosco and his family during this final part of his journey.
There is something palpable about the bond between a sick pet and a pet owner. I sense it when I walk in the exam room. I can look into a pet owner’s eyes and feel her heart breaking. I listen to stories about the pets and I get a glimpse into their lives and the bond that they shared. I stay with the owners as they say good-bye. I can see the pain as they bend down to kiss their pet for the last time. When the door closes, I stay with my patient for a moment with my hand on their chest and wish them a safe journey home. I thank them for reminding me that life is so short and fragile.
Each patient touches my heart and makes me a better person and a better doctor. My answer to those who wonder how veterinarians can put pets to sleep is, “It’s not difficult or impossible, it’s a privilege and an honor.”