On Veterinary Aversion Post Euthanasia
After a lengthy illness, your pet’s euthanasia looms over your household like a long shadow. But you’ve faced it bravely. You’ve talked it over with your veterinarian and all the arrangements have been made. Finally, the day arrives, the deed is done and the process goes as well as can be expected: It’s as peaceful for your pet as it is traumatic for you.
So it is that you’re truly grateful to your veterinarian for all the kindnesses she’s bestowed along the way. And yet somehow, you can’t bring yourself to go back to see her with the rest of your pets. In fact, you know you’ll never go back to that hospital ever again. The memory of death is all over that place.
In case you’ve never been acquainted with this phenomenon, you should know it’s a common scenario. Some pet owners are so incapable of getting past the traumatic memory of their pet’s passing that it manifests as a total avoidance to anything that might lead them to revisit it.
I bring this up because one of my clients recently confided her reluctance to see my in-hospital colleague for a routine post-op recheck during my planned trip to Blog Paws this past weekend. (Not that I ended up going. My flight was canceled, as I’d expected.)
She’d explained it this way: Every time I see him I think of Suzy lying on that table. I just can’t do it.
Which only makes total sense. It can be really hard to get past these associations. Problem is, you’re likely to have more pets in the household and/or more pets in the future, and, depending on your geography, you’re unlikely to have an unlimited supply of great veterinarians to choose from. So why throw away what’s admittedly an otherwise great relationship?
Over the years I’ve seen this reluctance manifested in different ways. I’ve had owners request house calls so they don’t have to see the hospital after a pet passed there. I know some who specifically request another exam room so they don’t have to face those four familiar walls. And often, I suspect we simply never see these clients ever again. Which we totally understand.
This is one reason we like doing house calls for euthanasias. It puts everyone more at ease. Because it happens in familiar surroundings, it makes for greater comfort and fewer negative associations that might otherwise linger unnecessarily.
But sometimes that’s just not practical or possible. This is one reason a lot of hospitals are carving out little niches in their hospitals designed specifically to deal with euthanasia scenarios. What could be better than a cozy room with non-clinical furniture and lighting for your pet’s last moments?
It makes sense. But still it’s not always enough. Human emotions are disturbingly hard to fathom. And nowhere so much as when it comes to grief and loss.
Dr. Patty Khuly