U.S. vet­eri­nary clinics add sooth­ing touches to ease painful good­byes

Regina Leader-Post - - WEEKEND - EL­IZA MC­GRAW

In De­cem­ber, Chelsea Lin­coln’s pet rat, Ju­niper, de­vel­oped an incurable tu­mour. Lin­coln then faced ev­ery pet owner’s hard­est re­al­iza­tion. It was time to end Ju­niper’s strug­gle.

When the eu­thana­sia ap­point­ment time ar­rived, how­ever, Lin­coln didn’t ag­o­nize with her ail­ing pet in a crowded re­cep­tion area. In­stead, she, along with Ju­niper and her part­ner, Rand Ry­herd, both from Ore­gon, en­tered a “com­fort room” fur­nished with soft couches, calm­ing art­work and a plush rug. Lin­coln and Ry­herd said their good­byes to Ju­niper, then sum­moned the vet­eri­nar­ian with an in-room phone. Sad as she was, Lin­coln said, the ex­pe­ri­ence was a re­lief — par­tic­u­larly af­ter the long wait she’d en­dured when hav­ing Ju­niper’s sis­ter, Holly, put down at an­other clinic.

Most U.S. pet own­ers have their ail­ing an­i­mals eu­th­a­nized at vet­eri­nary of­fices, which are more widely avail­able and typ­i­cally less ex­pen­sive than in-home eu­thana­sia providers. But as house-call ser­vices have grown more pop­u­lar, vet­eri­nary clinics have also sought to make end-of-life ex­pe­ri­ences more per­sonal for both clients and pets, pro­vid­ing sep­a­rate en­trances, can­dles and sooth­ing mu­sic among other touches.

“The home eu­thanasias are still grow­ing, but clinics are start­ing to rec­og­nize more how im­por­tant it is,” said vet­eri­nar­ian Mary Gard­ner, who co-founded the in-home eu­thana­sia net­work Lap of Love and reg­u­larly gives talks at vet­eri­nary con­fer­ences. “And they ’re step­ping up now.”

Sev­eral fac­tors have af­fected this shift, ex­perts say. His­tor­i­cally, vet­eri­nar­i­ans came to an­i­mals, but as the field — par­tic­u­larly the care of do­mes­tic pets — shifted to­ward an of­fice set­ting, eu­thana­sia be­gan hap­pen­ing there, too. About a decade ago, an­i­mal hos­pice as­so­ci­a­tions came to­gether to be­gin dis­cussing and shar­ing ideas about ways of “im­prov­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence,” said vet­eri­nar­ian Kath­leen Cooney, who spe­cial­izes in endof-life care and runs a “com­fort cen­tre” ded­i­cated to hos­pice and eu­thana­sia on her Colorado farm.

Dovelewis Emer­gency An­i­mal Hospi­tal, the Port­land clinic where Lin­coln took Ju­niper, has had a com­fort room since the 1990s, ac­cord­ing to Enid Trais­man, its pet loss sup­port di­rec­tor.

“In the past 30 years, we’ve seen our an­i­mals come from our back­yards into our homes and into ev­ery as­pect of our life,” she said. “The en­tire hu­man-an­i­mal bond in­dus­try has just ex­ploded. It’s been re­al­iz­ing these are fam­ily mem­bers. And they de­serve the same care at end of life.”

The Amer­i­can Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion’s eu­thana­sia guide­lines re­fer to this con­tem­po­rary view of the im­por­tance of pets: “As so­ci­ety con­tin­ues to pay more at­ten­tion to ques­tions about the moral sta­tus of an­i­mals, loss of an­i­mal life should be han­dled with the ut­most re­spect and com­pas­sion by all an­i­mal care staff.”

Some an­i­mal hos­pi­tals make ar­range­ments for cre­ma­tion and take pay­ment over the phone in ad­vance so that griev­ing own­ers don’t have to deal with pa­per­work or ques­tions once they’re at the clinic. Cooney said she greets fam­i­lies out­side and stays with them through­out the ap­point­ment.

The Nunda Vet­eri­nary Clinic in New York eases the ex­pe­ri­ence with a bat­tery-op­er­ated can­dle at the front desk that’s paired with a sign ask­ing vis­i­tors and staff to lower their voices while pet own­ers say good­bye. The com­fort room at the clinic is “painted a very nice, calm­ing green colour,” owner and vet­eri­nar­ian Ailsa Emo said.

“It’s more like some­one’s liv­ing room. There’s a leather couch in there that’s re­ally com­fort­able, a lit­tle big­ger than a love seat, with a ta­ble lamp like you would have in your house in­stead of the flu­o­res­cent light shin­ing down,” she said. A wheeled cof­fee ta­ble in the room can be used as a work sur­face for eu­th­a­niz­ing a small pet or rolled away to make space for a larger an­i­mal to be han­dled on a blan­ket on the floor, Emo said. “It’s a lit­tle more like be­ing at home.”

Dawn Wil­cox man­ages East Val­ley An­i­mal Clinic in Min­nesota, which has had a com­fort room at a quiet end of the lobby since the fa­cil­ity was built in 2001. An in­te­rior de­signer helped choose tran­quil colours for the drapes, and the room has a cushy chair where own­ers can hold their pets. She said clients ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing a sep­a­rate space for eu­thana­sia.

“They don’t have to worry about go­ing in there ... when they come back with other pets, and don’t have to be re­minded of that all the time,” she said.

Clinics such as Dovelewis and Nunda Vet­eri­nary Clinic also of­fer memo­rial art fea­tur­ing a paw print for a dog or cat, an ear print for a rab­bit or a tail print for a rat. It is made in the clinic at the time of eu­thana­sia, giv­ing own­ers some­thing to take home. Dovelewis holds a monthly work­shop for peo­ple who want to place a pet’s ashes in a fused-glass piece of art, Trais­man said.

“We also of­fer a clip­ping of fur, or if they want to keep the col­lar,” she says. “These are all con­sid­ered link­ing ob­jects, which can help fa­cil­i­tate a healthy griev­ing process.”

Once the pro­ce­dure is over, pet own­ers at Dovelewis can avoid a busy re­cep­tion room by leav­ing through a rear en­trance, a seren­ity gar­den with benches and a gur­gling cop­per and stone foun­tain.

“So many peo­ple are torn up, with a tear-stained face and empty arms,” Trais­man said.

When a per­son dies, oth­ers of­ten have a fu­neral “as the cel­e­bra­tion or the re­mem­brance ex­pe­ri­ence,” Gard­ner noted. “And it’s per­fect: the flow­ers, the mu­sic, peo­ple say some­thing. Well, the ma­jor­ity of us don’t do that (for) our dogs and cats. So the eu­thana­sia is ac­tu­ally also the fu­neral for that pet. How can we make it less clin­i­cal and more ex­pe­ri­en­tial?”

For Lin­coln, the de­tails — in­clud­ing a heart de­sign added to the box for Ju­niper’s body — added up. She said she chose Dovelewis be­cause of its eu­thana­sia ameni­ties.

“When all is done, the exit, so you don’t have to face ev­ery­one with your face all red from cry­ing — it’s those lit­tle touches that make a big dif­fer­ence,” Lin­coln said.

The stakes are high, said Cooney: “With eu­thana­sia, there’s no doovers, so you re­ally get one chance to make this as per­fect as you can.”


When her pet rat, Ju­niper, de­vel­oped an incurable tu­mour, owner Chelsea Lin­coln, chose to have her eu­th­a­nized at a clinic that pro­vided a “com­fort room” and other ser­vices aimed at eas­ing the process.


The seren­ity gar­den at Dovelewis Emer­gency An­i­mal Hospi­tal in Port­land, Ore., is out­side a sep­a­rate exit for pet own­ers who do not want to face a busy re­cep­tion area af­ter eu­th­a­niz­ing an an­i­mal.


The “com­fort cen­tre” on vet­eri­nar­ian Kath­leen Cooney’s Colorado Farm. In­side are soft car­pets and couches where griev­ing own­ers can take time to say good­bye to their pets.

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