Monday, June 4, 2007

Posts may be hard to come by...

Over the past few days, I've sat at my office computer only to be interrupted by the daily goings on. The hospital is busier than I ever dreamed it would be at this point in its existence. We've only been open for two years!


I performed euthanasia for a very sick, older dog on Sunday evening. The family was understandably distraught because this dog was a big part of their household for many years. This family is new to our practice and I never knew this dog in his younger, healthier days. Nevertheless their bond with this dog was easily apparent.

I find it very difficult to answer the question, "What would you do if this was your dog?" Who am I to attach my values to a family I only just met? But this question is exactly what they asked me on Friday night as we discussed the dog's treatment options.

The best analysis I've heard about euthanasia was by my mentor who quoted Emily Dickinson:

"Pain Has An Element Of Blank

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain."

My mentor went on to say that animals have no real sense of time. The pain that they endure is endless until it ends, then there is little memory of what the pain was like. So if a pet's pain cannot be treated and it is seemingly never-ending, for whom are we keeping the pet alive? The fact is that often we are keeping the pet alive for ourselves.

As a veterinarian, I feel that it is my responsibility to act as an advisor to clients (pet owners) as well as an advocate for my patients. Euthanasia literally means "good death." To me, that means dying in peace, pain-free, and with dignity. I respect the wishes of pet owners to treat or not to treat a medical problem, but when I feel a pet is suffering I think I owe it to the animal to tell its family that euthanasia is an acceptable alternative. In the final analysis it is most important for the pet to be comfortable and for the family to be at ease with their choice to perform euthanasia.

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