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Monday, December 28, 2015

Some Euthanasias Are Harder

In early December I had a couple of euthanasias that were harder than most.  This will give you some insight into what veterinarians have to handle and the kinds of cases we see.
The first was a dove that was at least 19 years old.  I had already treated it for pneumonia and the bird started to get better but then relapsed.  On the second exam I felt a likely tumor in his abdomen, which worsened the prognosis.  There really wasn't anything that we could do for the bird so the decision was made to euthanize.  That was hard enough, but there were some other circumstances that made the situation worse.  The owner had been living in a hotel for more than a month because of some damage to her house that was being worked on, and she was looking at at least another month in that hotel.  Her 12 year old son had lost a classmate and friend in a car accident two weeks earlier, and he was really attached to the bird, having had it since before he was born.  Plus we were just two weeks away from Christmas.  That was a perfectly horrible cascade of circumstances that was made worse by the very serious condition of the dove.  The son broke down in tears in the room, and I was tearing up right along with him.
The following day I had an emergency come in, a 115 pound (52kg) Labrador retriever with an injured leg.  The owner had been playing with him at a local park, tossing a ball for him to catch.  On the final throw the ball went past a bridge over a creek and the dog jumped after it.  He got caught on the bridge railing and dangled briefly before the owner could pull him up.  When I saw him he was very painful in that leg and obviously couldn't get up.  We gave him high doses of pain medications and heavily sedated him to take x-rays, which showed a dislocated hip.  I tried putting it back into socket but it slipped out again with the slightest movement.  This dog already had problems getting up and down due to arthritis and was on pain medicine for this.  The only option to correct the problem was surgery, and with his size, age, and joint problems it would have been an extremely difficult recovery, with the possibility of him not being able to walk at all for a couple of months.  As hard as it was the owner decided to euthanize. 
Making the decision to end a pet's life is never easy, no matter how justified and humane it may be.  Under the best of circumstances it is heart-wrenching and often devestating.  But when you're living in a hotel and have had a young friend die suddenly it's one more straw on the camel's back.  When you've just been playing with your best friend and within a couple of hours have to then put him to sleep it's an incredible emotional and mental shock.  When these circumstances are just before a joyous holiday it completely changes the season.
These are the kinds of things that veterinarians have to deal with regularly.  I wish we had more grief training and psychology courses in vet school, as it's often hard to know what to do.  In the end we just have to be as comforting and empathetic as we can, realizing that there are no words or deeds that can make it all better.
My prayers have gone out to both of these families.