By Dr. Amanda Rainey
Clients often comment on how hard it must be to put animals to sleep; they don’t know how we handle this part of our job. I admit that it is heartbreaking. In the same breath, it is a fulfillment of our oath to relieve animals of suffering at the end of their journey of life. Having lost animals myself, I know the pain that owners feel as they watch their dearly beloved slip through the final veil.
This very subject crossed my mind during a recent emergency shift, as a couple came in with an aged poodle. A fourth-year student talked with them first, but soon realized they were upset and came to find me. She explained that they were concerned about the little dog’s quality of life and that I should discuss options with them.
I entered the room to see a well-loved miniature poodle sitting atop a man’s lap. The flowered collar and bows in the white fur of her ears made Carly look younger than her 16 years. But soon her age was obvious. Her head wobbled as she turned toward me. When I looked her in the eyes, there was clear evidence of cataracts.
The gentleman explained that she had lost both hearing and sight over the last year and began displaying abnormal behavior. She had started circling as if lost and her appetite had diminished.
What brought them in was a seizure-like episode the small dog had suffered while they were having breakfast. His wife told stories of how naughty Carly used to be, as well as her feats of intelligence. I listened quietly as they lovingly spoke of their pet, nodding my head in agreement with their assessment of how much joy she had brought them. In my mind, I could see the story of her life unfold.
They grew silent after a few moments and the gentleman spoke with an emotion-strained voice that he felt it was time to let her go. I understood how hard that decision was and patted his arm affirming their unselfish wish to release their pet from a life that was no longer of enjoyment for her.
We placed an intravenous catheter in little Carly. Her owners held her while I administered a strong sedative. Her body softly relaxed and with it I saw some of the stress fade from her owners’ faces, as they were very worried that she was in pain. I gave the final injection as they told her how much she was loved and knew when it was complete that Carly was gone, but would never be forgotten. She would live on in the hearts of her owners as that mischievous and clever puppy.