Growing up on a farm gave me insight to the circle of life at an early age. I saw crops planted and harvested each year to feed the hogs that were raised to supply food for the world and our immediate family. I was introduced to baby pigs as I helped my father give iron shots to prevent anemia and clip baby teeth in order to protect the mother sows udder. I was in charge of caring for the runts that were not able to fend for themselves in those large litters. My younger brother and myself would fix milk replacer for them and then transition them to creep feed and offer all the TLC a young pig could handle. I snuggled with pigs more than I care to admit during my younger years. The ones that did not survive were carefully buried behind the barn and we rejoiced with each one that was able to move to the feeder pig facility.
I had a number of outdoor cats that would have litters every spring and those little kittens always seemed to get the “kitty cold” and would start doing poorly. My dad told me that if I wanted to help them, I could give them a shot of penicillin and see if they improved. Some responded immediately and others continued to decline and eventually passed away. Yet each of them were loved every moment of their lives by a young girl that learned there is a time to live and a time to die.
I had farm dogs that worked side by side caring for the livestock and others that were there as protectors and/or companions. Attachment to each of them ran deep and as they aged, it became apparent that soon we would have to say good-bye.
I guess you could say that all of these experiences set me up to be a veterinarian. These experiences also made me more aware of the circle of life. I saw life and death often in nature and realized that there is no fear in death. I would see the peace in an animal’s passing and that there was no longer any pain or suffering. I would remember the joy that they had brought to my life, even if it was only for a short period of time. I would realize that my life was blessed because they had been special to me.
As I spend time with clients at Winterset Veterinary Center during the difficult moments surrounding euthanasia, I am reminded of the peace that comes in the end when our furry friends have taken their last breath. I can remember the joy they have brought to their forever family and know that these humans have been eternally blessed to have had this time with this special furry friend.
Please understand that as a veterinarian, these situations are some of the most difficult parts of my job. Yet, I would not choose to be anywhere else when that time comes for a pet-owner. I have been with them during the good times, and I would never abandoned them during these final moments when facing the most agonizing decision they have ever had to make for their special friend.
I find myself counseling often on “Is it that time?” Only you as a pet owner can know and decide if it is that time. People ask me, “But how will I know?” I tell them, “You will know.” We were given a greater intelligence to be able to sense pain and suffering. Maybe by using our 5 senses we can relate to the struggles they endure during those final days. No more twinkle in their eyes, lots of moans and sighs, lack of interest in food and water, avoidance of affection and interaction, and/or unusual smells. Maybe it is the physical challenges they face such as incontinence, nerve deficits, joint diseases, heart disease, etc. Sometimes these issues can present in combinations that make it apparent that successful return to a quality lifestyle will be next to impossible. We all can hope that one morning we awake and find our furry friend peacefully passed in the night. Yet I must say, that gift is not granted nearly enough. If you have been given that gift in the past count yourself BLESSED!
I want to make certain my clients know that they will not be judged on what they decide is best for their furry friend. Only they can sense what has changed in their pet’s life that makes it apparent that this is the right time. I recall a day when I was asked to go outside to a pick-up truck to administer that final injection that would end the painful day to day struggles their furry friend had endured. I climbed up into the bed of the truck and sat in front of this very special dog that I had had the pleasure of caring for. No struggle was given as I placed my tourniquet and found that vein. I began injecting the solution and in her final moment of consciousness, she laid her head ever so peacefully in my lap. It was a moment I will never forget because I understood how much this final gesture had given her freedom from her pain and suffering.
Our furry friends deserve to have their final days be full of love and attention to their every need and comfort. The unconditional love they bestow on us daily is something that we will always hold most precious and dear. If you are coming to an end in the life of a furry friend, just always keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. If each day is a struggle for your pet and they are having more difficult days than good days it may be time. If the sparkle has gone from their eyes, they no longer greet you at the end of the day, and they rarely seek you out due to the constant struggle they have to get around, it is most likely time. Know there is peace in their passing and joy in the remembrance of the blessings they have been in your lives. My favorite saying when it comes to this topic is, “A furry friend’s only fault is they do not live long enough.” These words ring true for me and for all those who have had the pleasure of loving a pet.