Every day in the life of a vet is different ~ some days bring the excitement of new litters or successful surgery; others bring the worry and exhaustion of around the clock care or complicated diagnoses. It is a job we do because we love our patients and their families, even on the days that bring heartache and sadness.
The days that hurt the most are those that call us to help young children say goodbye to their best four-legged friend. Over the years, we’ve been privileged to share many of these emotional moments with families, and we’ve learned a lot about how to make the experience as comfortable as possible for everyone involved.
Take for example beautiful little Max and his incredibly distraught, young owner Madeline, who recently had to endure their awfully sad last day together with us at DVS. Max was 16 years old with a sudden and severe illness requiring a massive and complicated surgery that he was unlikely to survive. After consultation, it was agreed by our team and his family that the only humane option to assist Max and remove his pain was with euthanasia. It was important to Max’s family that his young owner be involved in the process, to help her understand what was going on and to give her closure with a proper, honest, heartfelt goodbye.
Madeline and I spoke for a while before the procedure, as I’m sure her family had as well. I told her how I believed that all dogs are angels, and that they are only with us while we really need them. We spoke about how once we are big and grown up, some dogs get their wings so that they can go and help someone else who is little, or sick or in need of an angel of their own. We then talked about what colour Max’s wings would be and I asked her to draw me a picture. I personally think this is a great way for children to begin the grieving process and to create their own memento to remember their beloved pet. Sometimes I will explain how sick a pet is and that we don’t want them in pain anymore, but we really do have to be careful with our wording here because we don’t want kids to worry that euthanasia is always the answer when we are in pain.
So, what can we do to help relieve the distress of a child saying goodbye to their pet, and how can we improve their understanding of the situation?
- Ask if your child(ren) if they would like to be present and honour their decision. Also be sure your child knows that they can opt in or out at any time.
- Talk them through what will happen before, during and after the procedure.
- Tell the truth. Simplicity is key.
- Take care with small children to be clear that your pet will not wake up after ‘being put to sleep’.
- Let kids take their time to process what is happening. Let them cry. Let them be angry. There is no ideal way to grieve.
Euthanising beloved pets is an excruciating decision to make, and oftentimes, is one that is taken out of our hands. We understand that you would much rather keep your pet by your side for as long as possible, but can no longer see them struggle. It is a selfless act of love and empathy. It breaks us in the moment and for years to come, but we do it because we love our pets more than words can say. This is a concept that young children can often understand and relate to, much to our surprise.
If you would like to talk through your options when making the selflessly heartbreaking decision to euthanise your pet, and how we can involve your young family, please do not hesitate to contact us on 03 9369 1822.