How Did You Cope with the Loss of an Animal?

QUESTION:

I experienced my first euthanasia today. Have you done one? If so, what was it like for you? How did you cope with the loss of the animal?

 

ANSWER:

First, I hope you and your client’s family are doing okay. Unfortunately, euthanasia is a common service veterinarians have to provide. I have not directly performed the euthanasia procedure to a patient, but I have been in the exam room, barn stall, and on the farm with the patient and clients during the process.

My first euthanasia experience was very emotional for me. I had just started volunteering at a mixed animal practice and was still uneasy around large animals. I started to bond with this beautiful Palomino horse and gained confidence interpreting horse behavior and being comfortable in her presence. Initially she was responding to treatment, and then one day everything went downhill. The choice was made to proceed with the euthanasia, and I stayed with her to the end that day and cried.

As veterinarians, we are one of the few (if not the only) professions that has the legal capacity to end a life. This can weigh heavily on an individual, especially if you consider the number of times a vet has to perform this procedure over a period of 5, 10, 15+ years. However, I choose to look at euthanasia as a way to end suffering. That nice horse was in unspeakable pain, and all the money in the world would not have significantly increased her likelihood of healing. I have come to realize that although I do not like death, I like the ability to bring an individual peace (and I’m referring to both the patient and client). I don’t think I will ever become stoic or numb to the process, and honestly I do not wish to.

If you want to become a veterinarian, it is important not to shy away from euthanasia. This lesson is just as important as learning how to check for a pulse. Face it head on and determine if it is something that you can handle. No amount of lectures on ethics or euthanasia can prepare you for the moment until you are in that moment. 

-Dr. G