Have you noticed how difficult it is for us people to show understanding and compassion for others when we are in pain? When all is well, most of us will try our best to notice other people’s feelings and show that we sympathize with them, but when things go down, we tend to see only ourselves.
Anyone who has ever been to an ER knows what I am talking about: if we are in pain, the world starts and ends with us and we are not able to see that there are so many others in the same or worse situation than we are. And the ones we tend the most not to see are the ones who will ease our pain - the health workers. It’s their job we will say. It is, but they are also only humans like the rest of us and the job they hold comes with an unusually high emotional and psychological price.
Understand Your Veterinarian
The same goes for veterinarians, the people who help us care about our pets. We usually go to see them worried and panicking about the health of our pet, convinced that there is nothing more urgent than our case. Sometimes we even insist on going first, we tell them what we think they should do and we share our emotional distress and then expect them to be kind, professional, loving and understanding. And most of the time, they ARE - because they love animals and they have dedicated their lives to treating them - but we could try to be a bit more comprehensive, as they are not dealing only with our pets, they are dealing with our emotional baggage as well.
Showing respect for someone’s work is crucial for the relationship, especially if that person’s job is to save lives. Or in some cases to end them.
I know it is difficult to imagine that there is someone who suffers more than you do when it comes to putting your beloved pet to sleep, but, maybe we should all try harder then. You decided to adopt a pet years ago because you love animals and you became aware of how they can improve your life in so many ways. Your veterinarian decided to dedicate years of his/her life to studying to be able to improve and save the lives of all the animals that come his/her way. Although you’ve always known your pet would go before you when this moment comes, you feel lost, disconnected from the world and sadder than you imagined you could ever be, especially if your pet is in pain and the only solution is to put him/her to sleep. The person you go to when this happens is the very same person who chose his/her career intending to save animals and putting an animal to sleep is, according to many vets, the most emotionally challenging part of their job and the main cause of depression and anxiety.
Euthanasia is a Greek word that means ‘’good death” and it describes the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering. As this is still a very controversial topic when it comes to human lives, the only health professionals who can legally perform euthanasia are veterinarians. And this is not an easy burden to carry.
Euthanasia is considered justified when the animal is suffering and at the same time, there isn’t a possible way to alleviate the suffering. Many times though, there is a possible solution to the problem, but it involves tens of thousands of dollars being spent for something that can still turn out to be an unsuccessful attempt. And many times, unfortunately, pet owners simply don’t have the money.
Although this scenario is difficult for both owners and veterinarians, at least they know that they are making the suffering go away, and they do help the animal have the ‘’good death”.
Where most veterinarians have many more difficulties is with something called ‘Convenience Euthanasia” and in this case, the animal is perfectly healthy or has some minor illness or behavioural problems, but the owners decide they don’t want to keep it anymore and request euthanasia. Most veterinarians don’t WANT to perform this procedure on a healthy animal, but they can happen to work in a clinic that does perform it and saying no could cost them their job.
We are In This Together
We can all agree that putting your pet to sleep out of inconvenience that it causes YOU, is very far from the Greek concept of “good death”. It is also far from showing compassion for the animal and for the person that should perform the euthanasia. There are other options available in these situations, like putting your pet out for adoption and giving him/her a chance for a good life instead. When we take this difficult decision we influence more than just our lives, why not do it for the better?But, even if we forget about the convenience euthanasia, which is not easy to do, there are still numerous cases where euthanasia IS our only choice. When you and your veterinarian have tried everything to help your pet, but the little fellow is still suffering, it is time to have the conversation. It will probably be one of the saddest you've had, but it is important to talk about all the steps (link to a different article with Euthanasia Best Practices), so you can be prepared for the hardships to come. In these moments we should remember that the veterinarians are the ones who can give us the best advice and that they also suffer when an animal’s life comes to an end. We still haven't found an easy way to deal with death and loss of the ones we love but if we put all our strengths together, we can help each other to overcome the difficulties a little bit more easily, knowing that there are people who understand us and share our pain.