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Good Grief

Decision for euthanasia is painful but humane - Dr. Jessica MilliganMy husband and I lost our Great Dane to osteosarcoma (bone cancer) last week, at almost 9 years of age.

My dog , my furry daughter, the reflection of my soul, light of my life, and apple of our eyes, died.

She is gone.

(more tears hit the keyboard…)

What makes us as veterinarians, as scientists, us as people taught in the shades of grey that paint the world of medicine, decide that “it’s time”?  Is it that he/she is no longer acting like they did yesterday, the day before, last week, or last month? Is it that they are in pain beyond the reaches of what current medicine can offer? Is it that they won’t eat, won’t wag a tail, won’t walk on their own? Is it that we’ve done everything we know to do and can’t improve their quality of life? The answer to the above is yes.

We have the exquisitely unique ability to freely use humane euthanasia to end animal suffering, and even took an oath to utilize that freedom to the best of our ability when we graduated from veterinary school (“…I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for…the prevention and relief of animal suffering…”). While euthanasia is the last option we discuss in the exam room, and we aim to prevent animal suffering with diagnostics and treatments aimed at alleviating the pet’s medical condition, sometimes it is still very appropriate to discuss end-of-life decisions and how we can best respect Fido or Fifi’s life and allow them the most comfortable passing as possible without undue suffering.

I read an article written, not too long ago, from a veterinarian who performs in-home euthanasias and hospice care. She said it best, and I often repeat it to my clients, “It is better to be a week too early than a minute too late.” And I think that encompasses so many different scenarios that we all face when it comes to the end of our best friend’s life. Many of my clients have told me they remember the agony their pet was in the last few days, weeks, or months prior to death, and are tainted with those memories rather than the plethora of good and happy times they spent the remainder of their lives.  I know we all wish they were born with a pop-up turkey timer that miraculously pops up and says “It’s time and I’m ready!”.  That would be clean, easy, and no regrets. But as we all know, life is messy, and it’s up to us as loving family members and as veterinarians whose sole purpose is to provide comfort, decrease pain, and cure or palliate disease, to step in and realize that the best love we can give our beloved furry family members is to let them leave this world in peace and love in a controlled environment without stress or agony.

As I often tell my clients when the tears are uncontrollable, and our hearts are shattered in a million pieces, “If we didn’t love them unconditionally, this would be so much easier.”

And, yet, our tears fall daily. Our hearts re-break each time we think of them. And we will agonize over if the timing was right. We are all in this together, and with time, each day will get easier.

Their memory will not fade, our love will not waiver, and we pray each day for peace. And we are eternally grateful we were able to share our life and our love with someone who reflected the best of us, and returned our affections a million-fold.

Dr. Jessica Boudreaux-Milligan is Web-DVM contributor and attending veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL.

2 thoughts on “Good Grief

  1. Vanessa says:

    I love animals so much that i can’t imagine how some other people could be so cruel. I lost my baby dog two years ago and i have no idea what happened to her.

  2. Crystal says:

    You are an amazing Doctor and such a compassionate person. I’ve been reminded often that doing the hardest thing is often the right thing. To all our fur-babies on the other side… we love you!

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