Angels At The End 386-562-5329
Home euthanasia of dogs and cats for a private and peaceful farewell since 2006
A home euthanasia is as individual as your relationship with your pet. I have been providing home euthanasia since 2006, so I have had thousands of experiences to help guide you. Here are some things to think about when considering a home euthanasia, along with a general outline of what happens when I come to your home.
Who should be present? You may want all of your family and friends to be with you, just a few people, or you may prefer to have this time be just between you and your pet. While it is wonderful to have emotional support for you, please also take into consideration what situation your pet would prefer. I have had pets who enjoyed the company of all the ones they love, and other pets who were agitated and annoyed by the extra people when they were not feeling well. Remember that your pet’s tolerance to activity in their home may change as their health declines. Some clients have had friends and family members say goodbye to their pet earlier and then leave so that their pet is not stressed by too much attention or emotion at one time. Be sure that everyone who wants to be present arrives ahead of the scheduled time as people coming and going during the house call generally increases the excitement and activity level at a time when we are aiming for calmness. If someone cannot be physically present, I have had them be present by phone or even Skype. I would also suggest that everyone turn off, silence or put their cell phones on vibrate so they are not a distraction for you or your pet. If you can mute the ringer on your home phone, that would be a good idea as well. You want to be able to give your pet your full attention and not have a telephone solicitor steal that away from you! Some families have even put a note on the door so that no one rings the bell or knocks unexpectedly. This is a home euthanasia because your pet is at home, but you do not have to stay in the room or even at home. If you would prefer to say your goodbye to your pet and go for a walk or drive after we complete paperwork that is perfectly fine as well. There have been more than a few times where paperwork was accomplished ahead of time and I was met by a neighbor, friend or relative at home. Whoever is there or not there, your pet is in their home environment where they feel comfortable and loved.
Members of clergy have occasionally been present, or come before or afterward.
Many people have asked me whether children should be present. That answer depends on your children and their age. You know your children better than anyone, but here is an excellent review of age-related understanding of death and grief at Argus Institute at Colorado State Veterinary Hospital . I believe that children old enough to understand that their family member is dying be given a chance to say goodbye whether they are present at the time or not. This is important: saying goodbye is not the same as involving them in the decision as to when it is time. That is a decision for adults only. No child should ever be made to feel in any way responsible for making the decision to euthanize a pet. I do think you should be honest with children and not disguise your pet’s absence with an excuse. The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death and an opportunity for you to give them the skills and support they need to work through grief and healing in a loving way. This is also a time that you may want to discuss your beliefs about death and afterlife with your children in an honest and age-appropriate way. In the grief support section of this website, there is a collection of books about pet loss for children. (I was at the home of an elementary school teacher who had Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven both by Cynthia Rylant, on the shelf at school just in case a student who had just lost a pet needed a quiet moment during the day to have it read to them. I was humbled by the compassion in that gesture of kindness.) Along that line of thinking, you may want to let teachers, daycare, or other people who help younger children know that there has been a significant event in your child’s life just so they can be supportive if needed. If your children are present, I have a few thoughts based on my experience. I suggest that they say their private goodbye in advance, so that if their emotions become too intense for them at the time they feel free to leave. Do be prepared for the unexpected. I have seen children be disconnected and seemingly uninterested, suddenly very grief-stricken, and also supremely compassionate and supportive of their pet in the last moments. What I have often found to be true is that children will watch and follow the adult response. I have seen children be accepting and content that their pet is going to heaven and then deteriorate into sobs when the adults present were suddenly overcome with their own grief. I have had many parents have another family member or close friend be present to comfort children in case the parents could not. If your child asks specific questions, be sure they know that euthanasia is only for pets because we can’t let them suffer, and that their pet is not “going to sleep.” In general, I find that most people chose to have their younger children say goodbye in advance, not be present at the euthanasia, and then have a memorial activity later in which the whole family participates. This memorial activity might be drawing a picture, gathering photos into an album or creating a memories box, reading a poem or story, or spending time recalling favorite memories of your life with your pet. There are many ideas at the grief support websites.
Where would you like to say goodbye? The answer to this question depends on your pet’s preferences as well as what their condition may be at the time of the house call. We can be wherever your pet happens to be if they are too painful to move. We can be outside if there is a private place on your property where your pet has always found enjoyment, such as a favorite resting spot under a tree or on the porch. If we are inside, we may want to be in a place that your pet likes to rest, whether it is in your bed or theirs. (I have a waterproof pad to put under your pet if they lose control and urinate or defecate as they relax and pass away.) Your pet may have already chosen a location in the last few hours or days. Don’t worry if that happens to be a closet or bathroom as that is quite common. I get to see a lot of closets and bathrooms! If there are a number of people present, it might be best to move the furniture to create an open area around your pet so everyone can gather nearby, remembering again to take into account what makes your pet comfortable at this time.
What about my other pets? Your other pets have wonderful instincts and know that something is wrong with their sick companion. Their relationship may have changed recently to becoming withdrawn and not interacting much at all to hovering over or near the sick pet as if anxious to help them. They have a bond and relationship that they share all day, everyday whether their humans are there or not. Most often, people will choose to have other pets be home to greet me when I come—it is always wonderful to get a welcome reception! As we chat and go about our business, most pets will settle down. They are aware of the emotions of the people they love, so they may be a distraction to you even if they are licking your face and trying to comfort you. I have often had pets, especially cats, who never come out when there is company, show up during or after the euthanasia process. Some people choose to have their other pets be free to come and go during the euthanasia, which often works quite well especially if the other pets are older and calmer. A pet who is energetic and active may settle down or need to be given a treat and put in another room while you say goodbye. If your sick pet would be more content without one or more of their companions present, take that into account as well. Some people choose to have a neighbor, friend or family member take the pets away for a walk or car ride for either part of or the entire process. Many people ask if the other pets should see the body of their companion after the euthanasia is over. What I find generally happens is that the other pets will sniff or show some interest in their deceased family member, and then are more interested in comforting you or others who may be present. Your other pets seem well aware that their companion is no longer in their body, and so may step on or over the body without showing it much regard. This is not a sign of disrespect. I have many people who choose a home euthanasia so that their other pets will have a chance to know that their companion has passed away rather than waiting for them to come back from their last car ride. Whether or not your pets are present or see the body of their companion, they will still go through their own process of missing someone with whom they have a relationship every day. I am sure that everyone who is grieving will give each other the extra time, love, and companionship they need.
What to Expect
I arrive in an unmarked vehicle. I believe this is important to preserve your privacy at an emotional time. If I will be taking your pet with me to arrange cremation (especially a large dog), I usually back into the driveway so that we can discreetly move your pet from your home. I can often tell what home I will be going to before I even get there because there are extra cars from visiting family and friends. If that is the case, try to remember to leave a space for my car in the driveway. I always wear a blue shirt with the Angels At The End logo on it, so you can be sure of who I am when I arrive. I do not wear a white jacket or anything that pets associate with the veterinary hospital, so I get warm greetings and tail wags from your healthy pets!
I will try to knock softly rather than ring the doorbell. Leave a note on the door for me, or call ahead and let me know if the door is open and you want me to come in quietly. Many of my patients are sharing a last cuddle with their families. Similarly, if we will be in the back yard and you want me to come in the gate and join you, just let me know. I will try and make my arrival as uneventful as possible.
If you have other pets who will be staying, I will greet them and give them time to adjust to a visitor in the home. I will say hello to your sick pet as well, depending upon how much they welcome attention at this time. I find that sick cats generally want to be left alone, while most dogs will do their very best to greet me or alert the family that I am there. After everyone has said hello, we have just a little paperwork to complete, and most people prefer to make payment at this point. Once again, this is a home euthanasia because your pet is at home, but you do not have to stay in the room or even at home. If you would prefer to say your goodbye to your pet and go for a walk or drive after we complete paperwork that is perfectly fine as well.
When I provide a home euthanasia, I always have your pet fall asleep first with an anesthetic injection. The American Veterinary Medical Association has guidelines for euthanasia that strongly encourage premedication before euthanasia to prevent anxiety, relieve pain and provide sedation. The home euthanasia veterinarians from around the country and world with whom I have spoken all give an anesthetic or strong sedative before the final injection that allows the body to shut down and pass away. The anesthetic injection goes under the skin and rarely causes pets to notice. If your pet is still eating, a special treat as a distraction during the first injection may be helpful, as well as lots of love and reassurance. Most pets will slowly become anesthetized over ten to fifteen minutes, and you can gently pet and talk to them while they relax. Each pet, just like each person, is an individual and the time we spend together as they fall asleep depends entirely upon how they are doing. Many times people will comment that their pet is getting the first comfortable rest in days or weeks and that it is nice for them to be peaceful. Some people will choose not to be present after their pet is no longer aware of their surroundings, and you should follow what feels best for you. Generally this is also when I will make a ClayPaw pawprint as a gift from your pet to you, although sometimes this is made after your pet has passed away. (There is no extra fee for this gift, by the way, and the clay was developed just for pet pawprints. The kits are assembled by workers with developmental disabilities. So, this gift from your pet is also a gift to help others.) When your pet is deeply sedated or anesthetized, the euthanasia injection is given. Usually by the time the injection is finished the pulses have dropped away and breathing has stopped. I will listen carefully with my stethoscope to be sure your pet is no longer alive, as well as checking other indications that death has occurred.
If you choose to have your other pets see that their companion has died, you can let them come in now if they were not present. If I am taking their companion for a cremation, I generally go out to the car to get what I need to move your pet so that you and your pets have some quiet time alone. I have a gurney to move larger pets and wraps for smaller pets so that we can take them from your home in a dignified way. If you are making your own arrangements, please ask the pet crematory personnel to wait outside until someone comes out to tell them your pet has passed away. It is very important that their arrival does not create a disturbance in your pet’s final moments. If you will be transporting your pet to the crematory, I can assist you if you need help getting your pet into your car.
The muscles and nerves of your pet’s body still have some energy, which may be released in the time after death by reflex movements, such as whisker twitch, a quick spasm or movement in muscles, or even a reflex breath. Your pet may also have fluids come from their body once the muscles meant to control this no longer work. This may happen immediately or later when the body is moved. In death, most mammals have their eyes open to partially open, while birds and reptiles usually have their eyes closed. Your pet’s body will change once death has occurred, so if your arrangements are delayed you may want to ask me what to expect.
A few last notes—home euthanasia should bring you comfort that your pet was able to be at peace in their home with only the ones they love at the end of their life. We are a society that has for several generations removed birth and death of our loved ones to the hospital, so you may understandably be more familiar with the tradition of taking your pet to your veterinarian for euthanasia. Our pets’ love is unconditional, so trust your feelings on what is best for your situation.
Also, be aware that a home euthanasia can ONLY be legally provided by a veterinarian, who should have a copy of their state, county and city veterinary license with them as proof. The Drug Enforcement Agency (or DEA) regulates the use of euthanasia, especially outside of a hospital, to be only in the hands of licensed veterinarians who understand the medical and chemical effects of these drugs and the possibility of individual responses and complications. Most importantly, your pet at the end of its life should be tended to by someone who has dedicated their professional life to providing the best possible care to your loved one.