Heaven at Home Pet Hospice knows there’s no easy way to say goodbye to your loyal fur-family member. However, through helping hundreds of Grand Rapids and West Michigan pet owners provide peaceful passings, Dr. Laurie Brush feels there’s therapeutic value to celebrating the life of your pet during a euthanasia home visit.
“Death is hard to talk about,” Dr. Brush says. “But it doesn’t need to be fraught with struggle. This might be the worst day of your life, but it doesn’t have to be the worst day of your fur-baby’s life. On the contrary, we can help your pet pass comfortably with dignity and compassion.”
By performing home euthanasia for companion animals, Dr. Brush’s goal is to prevent animals from experiencing the stress, and sometimes fear, of trips to the vet when unwell.
“Our service allows pets to be with their family one last time in a familiar, comfortable environment, surrounded by their favorite people, toys, bed, and blankets.”
Dr. Brush feels it’s important that clients are prepared for the process of euthanasia, and that they’ve had a chance to ask questions, complete paperwork, decide on burial or cremation options and otherwise be prepared prior to the time so they can focus on comforting their fur-baby and celebrating his or her life.
Planning for Pet Euthanasia at Home
While there’s no easy way to say goodbye, there are ways you can prepare for your pet’s passing in advance. Bringing treats, sharing stories, and thinking of ways to make your pet comfortable will all work together toward a loving departure. The following are a few considerations:
- There Are Forms to fill out: At the time of our house call we initially take care of the legal paperwork. A consent form is signed by the legal guardian as well as verification that your pet has not bitten or scratched anyone in the past ten days, to comply with the Rabies law. (If there has been a bite or scratch, we can still proceed, but Rabies testing and additional paperwork will be required so we usually try to discuss this in advance.) Other forms will ask you to confirm the type of cremation you have selected if that applies.
- Consider Your Other Pets: One advantage of at-home euthanasia for dogs and cats is that it helps the other animals in your home to know that their friend has passed because other pets will grieve for their friend too. They often know when another pet is sick or failing. It is thought that their noses will know that another pet family member has died. Giving them the opportunity to see and smell the deceased pet prevents them from continually searching for the pet who is no longer there.
- Decide Who Will Attend: If you’d like your entire family present to say goodbye, we can schedule a time to accommodate that. If you have children, explain what’s happening in advance to help them prepare for the loss of their friend. The American Humane Association recommends books such as Fred Rogers’ When a Pet Dies as a way to provide comfort and understanding for children. We have other resources on our website we often recommend such as Veterinarywisdom.com which has a good resource section for Pet Parents on kids and grief. Among other things, they suggest books such as “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant; “Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant and “A Special Place for Charlie” by Debby Morehead.
- Communicating with Children about Euthanasia: It is best to speak in honest terms, at an appropriate level of detail for the child’s age. Very small children need to know that this is final – the pet isn’t going to wake up or come back. To say that the pet “went away” or is “in heaven” without offering any other details can also confuse children. Older children need to know the reasons why this decision is being made, and why it is humane for the suffering animal.
- Choose the Location: Many of Dr. Brush’s clients choose a pet’s “favorite” location in the home or yard to host the passing. This helps soothe the pet. Sometimes that means she’s found herself cuddling up in a closet to conduct the procedure; other times, enjoying a sunny day by a favorite tree.“What’s important is that the last resting place of the dog or cat is where they are comfortable. I think we’d all like to be in our favorite place when we die,” she said.
What To Expect In The Process of Euthanasia
Some veterinarians use a slightly different process for euthanasia, but at Heaven at Home, we always use a two-step procedure.
First, a mixture of medication is administered just under the skin with a small needle to help the pet relax. This sedative is used to create a deep, pain-free sleep for the animal that is peaceful for their owners to witness. This can take up to 15 minutes to have its full effect, and this time can be spent comforting your pet, remembering special times, or just sitting quietly, as you choose.
Once the doctor is sure that your pet is completely relaxed, and not feeling any pain, a final injection of pentobarbital is discretely administered. The Doctor will always tell you before performing this final injection.
Pentobarbital is a liquid barbiturate that will be given at a lethal dose. Because this solution has an anesthetic effect and depresses the central nervous system, your pet will continue to be unconscious and pain-free.
Once the solution has been administered, the Doctor will listen to your pet’s heart and will inform you when your pet has passed on.
When the muscles relax, there may be some body fluids or stool that passes. We are always prepared for this and will have some absorbent waterproof pads to help keep your pet, and surfaces under your pet, clean. Your pet’s eyes may not stay closed, but if this is uncomfortable for family members, we can help to close them. Sometimes, there are twitches or movements and/or sounds as the air and energy leave your pet’s body.
There are a few options for taking care of the deceased pet’s body. Heaven at Home can help you wade through these options, and can coordinate your pet’s cremation with a local crematory. Some people prefer to bury their pets. Local regulations and guidelines can be confirmed with the county where you plan to bury the pet. If cremation is chosen, Heaven at Home will take your pet after the euthanasia and arrange for cremation. We often work with Sleepy Hollow Pet Cemetery, which offers both burial and several levels of cremation: http://www.sleepyhollowpc.com/
Some of the options at Sleepy Hollow include:
- Private Cremation –Your pet is individually cremated. Cremains will be returned to the owner.
- Semi-Private Cremation –Two or more pets are cremated at the same time, but kept separate and a barcode system is used to identify your pet. Cremains will be returned to the owner.
- Memorial Cremation – Your pet is cremated with other pets. Cremains are interred at Sleepy Hollow
It usually takes about a week, give or take a few days, for cremains to be returned to Heaven at Home. Then we will contact you to make arrangements to get your pet home to you. Cremains are placed in a small floral tin unless a different urn is purchased.
Other Forms of Commemoration:
Heaven at Home and partner vendors such as Sleepy Hollow can help keep your companion close in spirit with cast paw prints, commemorative jewelry, and other items. Keepsakes can be especially helpful during the grieving process.
You may also find one of the following helpful: Planting a tree in your pets’ memory in a location they loved; donating to an animal protection organization or animal health research entity in their name; crafting a commemorative plaque; and creating a commemorative photo album.
Understanding Grief and Loss
Losing a pet is losing a family member for our clients. Grief and even feelings of guilt are expected after the loss of a pet. To move through the healing process, be certain to be kind to yourself, and talk about your feelings, emotionally and constructively, with others. Using a journal to explore your feelings will help ease the pain over time.
If the grief and sense of loss are overwhelming or prolonged, counseling and support is available from several sources, both online and off-line. For a variety of pet grief support articles, visit our friends at Veterinary Wisdom: http://www.veterinarywisdom.com/find-support-for-grief
Our local pet loss support group in Grand Rapids meets about once a month and is facilitated by Ginny Mikita. Please contact Ginny by phone at (616) 460-0373 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating.
There is also a pet loss support group in Muskegon by Clock Timeless Pets.
Please Contact Us for more information about either of these groups.
Be aware that pets may also grieve for the loss of their companion, too. They may exhibit grief by: not eating, not enjoying formerly favorite activities, or mild lethargy. Providing them with extra TLC and interaction with other pets may help to ease the transition for them. These behaviors should be mild and short-lived. If they persist or are dramatic, seek veterinary support.
Know You Did The Right Thing
Whatever you’re feeling, and however natural feelings of guilt may be, it’s important to understand the beautiful gift you’ve given your pet.
“A peaceful, pain-free passing is the greatest gift you can give your fur-family member at the end of a well-lived life,” says Dr. Brush. “No one wants their pet to suffer.”