Death comes to all creatures, of course, but when we bring our fellow animals into our families, we take on the responsibility for his or her health, well-being and even the possibility of deciding when he or she will die. While euthanasia can be a blessing in certain cases, few of us want to take on the role of this type of decider.
Many of us working in animal care are asked:
“When is it the right time to euthanize?”
Like many of my colleagues, I have good news and bad news for you.
The bad news? There is no one answer that fits all cases. As New England Pet Hospice & Home Care Founder and Director Heather Merrill tell our clients: We don’t believe in an objective standard or a list of criteria. Why not? Because we, like the AVMA, believe that our animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling and consciousness.
Whether a particular animal wants to live is very individual and subject to change from moment to moment.
So instead of a list of factors that may or may not matter to that individual animal, we ask instead:
Do you think your animal wants to live in this moment?
Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no.
And the good news? With interdisciplinary support services like New England Pet Hospice & Home Care, you have choices and can follow the path that feels right to you for your animal. You are no longer locked in to simply “when” but can also consider “whether” – knowing that there is an alternative to euthanasia: that it is possible for pets to die a natural, peaceful, pain free death at home with the support of hospice.
One of the most important services we provide to our client families is acting as a sounding board, helping them find the answer within themselves, whatever that may be, without agenda and without judgment. About two-thirds of our clients choose euthanasia at some point and about one-third do not, but almost all are satisfied that they have honored the wishes of their pet and are at peace with their decision, whatever it may have been.
Sometimes there can be enormous pressure to euthanize your pet – from friends, family, even the veterinary community. We at NEPHHC believe that there is no moral obligation to euthanize our pets as long as we are able and willing to provide the following three things:
- Good pain management;
- Cleanliness of the pet’s body and surroundings; and
- Stimulation, attention, and love
Afraid you won’t know when and will wait too long?
Don’t be. In our experience, if you have any doubt, the answer is, “Not yet.” On the other hand, if you have an overwhelming sense that your pet wants help moving on, you have your answer and will not regret the euthanasia decision.
We absolutely believe that you know your beloved best, and whether he or she wants to live. You are the one who knows best your own resources – how much time, money and nursing skill you can devote to end-of-life care. You are the one who knows best what will be the most merciful and loving way for your pet’s life to end. As Heather pointed out, each pet is unique, and each pet’s situation can change from moment to moment.
Loving is not neat and tidy, and it can be least so as its ending. We know that each person, each family, has the wisdom to decide what is right, what makes sense for the well-being of their beloved friend. And we trust that when the time comes, you will draw on love and wisdom, with the help and support of others as needed, to make that decision.
Rev. Eliza Blanchard is an ordained Unitarian-Universalist minister who dedicates her ministry to the care and support of animal caretakers. She serves as the Interfaith Spiritual Advisor to New England Pet Hospice & Home Care, providing compassionate spiritual support and guidance to individuals of all faiths as well as those who consider themselves non-religious, spiritual, humanist, agnostic or atheist.
New England Pet Hospice & Home Care supports those caring for ill, elderly and special needs animals at home following the human hospice and palliative care models of interdisciplinary care. Learn more and get your FREE subscription to Wag & Purr: Your Guide to Comfort Care for Pets at www.NewEnglandPetHospice.com