“How often do you have to do that?”

tvrh blog

I recently had to help my mom and dad put their Doberman to sleep.  Sadie was on medication for hypothyroid, incontinence, and we’d found a nodule in her lung about a year ago, but Sadie had a joie de vivre that just wouldn’t quit and she loved her life as a spoiled rotten princess. 

About 15 years ago, I knew my mom was considering getting a dog.  I was working in a primary care practice at the time and we had a client who had had an unwanted puppy thrust upon him by a family member.  He brought in the 7 month old puppy and wanted us to “fix” her ears.  She had had her ears cropped a few months earlier and was now living in a pen – we had to explain to this gentleman that what she looked like now was all he was going to get (one ear stood and one ear was wonky and usually laid on top of her head).

This client mentioned in passing that he was trying to find the pup a home, and I immediately set about getting a meeting arranged.  Mom and the puppy hit it off and mom agreed to a trial run.  Keep in mind, my mom was not what anyone thought of as a “big dog” sort of person; but when she followed me to my house in her car and I looked in my rearview mirror to see a Doberman head resting on mom’s shoulder as she drove, I knew it was a done deal.

Sadie was an amazing companion for mom and dad, especially mom – their bond was incredibly close.  When the two of them traveled with Sadie, she was watchful and alert.  But when mom travelled alone, no strange man ever approached mom; that deep voice and those big teeth were an effective deterrent.  She was also fantastic with the kids when the grandkids started arriving.

tvrh blog cuddle

Of course, I saw Sadie every time I went home to visit and she was often at my house when I would pet-sit for Mom and Dad (grandkids to visit, you know).  In fact, when I adopted a neurotic, fearful border collie from a rescue organization, Sadie was the first member of the family that he met and they became fast friends.

blog tvrh dog friends

When Sadie lost her joy, when her health issues finally caught up with her, she came here to be put to sleep.  Dad walked to the back with us when it was time to put a catheter in Sadie and he commented on how difficult we must find this part of the job.  He asked how often we have to do this (euthanize a pet) and my answer was “a lot”. 

Emergency medicine is different than working in primary care; we see a lot of very, very, very sick animals.  One of the most common comments that I get about my job is “I couldn’t do what you do.  I couldn’t deal with all of the death.”  But the majority of the patients that we put to sleep are sick and afraid and suffering – we truly do consider it a kindness to painlessly and peacefully end that suffering.  And it is hard.  It’s always hard.

If you’re going to work in emergency medicine, you have to find a way to balance compassion with enough emotional separation to allow you to survive.   Some people don’t – some go home in tears each day until they quit.  Some of us suffer from compassion fatigue and build too thick a wall; it doesn’t take long before those folks move on to another field.  But most of us find a way. 

tvrh blog dog hiking

Oh, those of us who are still here cry.   A client strikes a chord with us, or a favorite patient dies, or a pet reminds us of one of our own, and we cry.  Usually, we go hide in the bathroom.  Our clients deserve our support and our compassion, but I doubt they want us blubbering on them.  And this is a business, after all, staffed with highly trained professionals – but that doesn’t stop us from caring about the pets and people that walk through out door.  So we cry sometimes, but we hide it.

We have a room here at the hospital with couches and a rug and a dog bed, with no exam tables and with blinds closed for privacy and dim lighting; we designed it specifically to be more like a home and less like a hospital to reduce stress.  Mom and Dad decided that they just couldn’t be there at the end and asked me to do it; I guess it was fitting that I was there at the beginning of her life with us and at the end.  Sadie and I sat on the floor on that dog bed and I put my arms around her.  I held her while the doctor gave her a sedative, and I held her once she was asleep while the doctor gave an injection to stop her heart.  It was peaceful and calm; and then I went home and cried.



On the loss of a friend...

As a referral and emergency hospital, we see a lot of loss. I wish that we had happy endings for all the cases that we see but unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the way it works. All of us can empathize with the losses we see, but some hit closer to home than others. Maybe it's that Jack Russell that you can relate to because you have a “terror” at home too. Maybe it's that grey cat that looks just like your first cat you had as a child. Maybe it's that biting dog that you could barely pet when it came to the clinic but you just couldn't help falling for because of her gumption and zest for life. Many of our patients are not just a cat or a dog, but a family member. We understand their loss because we've lost some of our own families too. Sometimes it's time for our friends to go and sometimes, it just doesn't make sense.

I remember when I lost my first cat –  my parents got me a book to help me understand and grieve. The book was called The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Voirst.

“Barney was brave, and smart, and funny, and clean;

also cuddly and handsome.  And he only once ate a bird. 

It was sweet to hear him purr in my ear. 

And sometimes he slept on my belly and kept it warm.”

I think about that book a lot. I don't remember all of it but I remember that it helped me cope with the loss of my Bruno. He was hit by a car – we lived on a busy street and he was an indoor/outdoor cat. It didn't seem fair that I lost my friend so soon (it still doesn't). I remember when we first got Bruno – we were told he was a girl and my mom had named him Maggie. That changed at the first vet visit. It's funny the way that pets shape your life – Bruno helped me perfect my cat wrangling techniques when I was only five. Thanks Bruno.

Whatever the reason (or lack thereof), pets must leave our lives at some point. I feel fortunate to have cared for the ones that I have had in my life – whether they belonged to me or not. I have learned something from all of them. Ella taught me that Jack Russells never give up – never. Kitty taught me that she was in charge and she could take care of it. Daisy taught me that a positive attitude is always the best outlook on life and you can never have enough friends – that's a golden for you. I've learned a lot from having pets in my life. I can't say I enjoy crying at work but I'm glad I'm at a place where I can be there to help someone when they've lost their own friend. I know it hurts, but we hurt with you. In time, I hope you remember all that your friend has given to you and what lessons you can learn from them. Here's to all our furry friends – may they rest in peace and watch over us from across the Rainbow Bridge.

submitted by Sarah Ignelzi