Are we ever really prepared to say goodbye to a beloved pet? Some situations give us time to make peace with their passing. But what about being prepared to end their suffering humanely if need be. Could you do it, or do you rely on a veterinarian for euthanasia? Maybe your answer will vary depending on the species or the situation.
Euthanasia comes from a Greek word quite literally meaning 'good death' and that is what we try to offer every animal on our farm whether they are a pet crossing the rainbow bridge or companion livestock being used for sustenance. We have always, for our dogs and cats, entrusted end-of-life care to our veterinarian. We had an experience yesterday that made us reevaluate that decision.
Our cat Oscar has forever been subject to recurrent cystitis and urinary blockages. We have treated conventionally and holistically over the years, in addition to making dietary changes and using bottled water. If you know neutered male cats then you are probably no stranger to this common problem. Yesterday morning we found him straining to urinate and a quick palpation of his abdomen revealed that he was blocked again. We decided, given his age and how much discomfort treatment causes him, that we wanted to proceed with euthanasia.
We called our veterinarian to make an appointment, only to find out that we would be denied access if we were not willing to show proof of injection for ourselves. Excuse me? That's right. Unless we were vaccinated for Covid and could show proof, we would not be able to accompany Oscar for his final visit - to hold and comfort him during his passing.
No way! We refuse to support discrimination and segregation of any kind, but especially medical segregation that is unfounded by science. Where was the allowance for folks who had recovered from the virus and acquired natural immunity? What about folks who have medical or religious exemptions to these liability free injections? Furthermore, if we have to produce our protected health information to obtain veterinary services for our pet, are we really living in a free society?
We are always finding ways to be better prepared, but will admit that this caught us off guard. We knew that doctors and hospitals were beginning to deny services to people unwilling or unable to provide proof of vaccination but never once considered our veterinarians.
We made some phone calls and were accommodated by another veterinary practice. Oscar was euthanized yesterday afternoon and is no longer suffering. We brought his body home to bury. We wanted to give our children a chance to say goodbye to the physical form of Oscar. We were prepared to answer their questions and provide support in the form of books or snuggles as needed.
Three years ago I attended a 'Discussing Death with your Child' training at our local library. The instructor is a mental health counselor who shared information about discussing death with children of all different age groups and in differing scenarios. Our librarian shared many titles of amazing books to support our families. We placed our thumbprints in clay and cured these tokens the oven before we left the library that evening. Each of us took our thumbprints home. These were tangible items I could share with my children. They were pieces of me that they could keep if something were to happen to me, but for our youngest child it became his thumbprint of bravery. He uses this imprinted clay piece whenever he needs extra comfort. Our teenager is no stranger to loss and yet I found the techniques I learned in this seminar to be a more appropriate way to approach death conversations with her than I had previously done. She tucked the thumbprint I gave her away in a sacred place. This preparedness has served me well the past few years, and my biggest takeaway is that kids need honesty.
On my way back from Oscar's appointment yesterday I picked our teen daughter, Mallory, up from work. She informed me that a co-worker has repeatedly attacked her verbally for her vaccination status, and that he was not willing to give her the employee discount on her food that day. She advised me that between our veterinarian's segregation, the co-worker's discrimination, and now a deceased Oscar in the back seat - it was quite literally the worst day of the week. She shared with me that she had said her goodbyes to Oscar earlier in the morning and had no desire to see him. We respected that.
Our preschooler, Sullivan, asked if Oscar was bloody like the bear who was shot on our property earlier this year. He asked if Oscar had to have his skin taken off like the pigs or the goats. I answered his questions candidly. I asked if he would like to see Oscar, to which he declined. He asked me to take Oscar's picture and show it to him so that he could be sure Oscar looked the same. I honored this. Then Sully said, "Ok. I am done learning about dead animals now. I might have more questions later." We respected that. Today he is exploring Tough Boris by Mem Fox.
We have since been discussing and researching how to prepare for the next scenario where we need to assist our animals with their death. This is a multifaceted issue. Anxiety, pain, and ultimately the euthanasia all need to be accounted for.
I have used homeopathic Arsenicum for pets with terminal illness who are near death but show anxiety. It seems to calm them and allow them to pass without apprehension. Herbal Valerian has sedative effects and can also ease transition for pets near death. Lavender essential oil is another option at times. And we have many herbal and homeopathic remedies on hand to alleviate pain. But what about actually providing a good death?
Every state has laws about their approved methods of euthanasia, and there are variables to consider such as species and age. It's fairly nationally accepted that an injection of Sodium Pentobarbital is the most approved method for humane euthanasia of animals. However, it's a controlled substance and can only be administered by veterinary hospitals, animal shelters, and certified wildlife rehabilitators. Some states allow the use of carbon monoxide chambers. For livestock, gunshot or captive bolt followed by exsanguination is accepted. There is so much more that could be discussed here but everyone should have a plan for what feels appropriate to them.
We were not prepared to put a bullet in our cat's head yesterday if it had come to that. Thankfully it did not. This scenario has allowed us to be better prepared moving forward. The situation of rapidly changing protocols globally whereby creating societal divisiveness leads us to be less ingenuous about our degrading systems locally. It's important to remain vigilant about our needs and resourceful about our connections within our small communities.