It may seem morbid to think about the death of our companion animals, but I believe that armed with information, we are more likely make choices that feel right for us and our beloved companions, and we will be less likely to suffer regrets. In this and the next few posts, I'll tell you some things that I learned through the experience of caring for my canine friend Ody at the end of his life.
At around age 12, Ody began to decline. And I started to worry. I worried, of course, about how he was from day to day, and about how to best take care of him. But I also started to worry about his death. I had always hoped that he would be able to die a peaceful, natural death, in his oatmeal-colored dog bed under the piano. But as his body started to fail him in various ways, as I actually witnessed his gradual descent into a realm of physical and emotional suffering, I also began to worry that euthanasia might come to feel appropriate. I wasn't worried so much about the rightness of procedure itself-I believe (mostly) that it can be a compassionate choice for a suffering animal. I worried about the details.
I had always assumed that if you chose euthanasia for your pet, you would have to go to a veterinarian's office. I tried to picture what it would be like—
and it wasn't good. Ody always hated the vet's office and would dissolve into an anxious frenzy of panting and shaking during a wellness visit or even if he so much as walked within a hundred yards of a veterinary office (I'm not exaggerating). I hated the idea of his final moments being filled with the anxiety of being in a place that smelled so bad. But I knew of no alternatives. Then I read somewhere that vets will often come out to the parking lot and euthanize an animal in the back of your car. This seemed much better-Ody loved the car. But still, a parking lot is not my image of an aesthetically pleasing and peaceful place to die, especially the parking lot of our vet's office, which sits at the intersection of two busy roads, across the street from Curt's Cleaners and next to the shabby Quality Liquor store.
Then a friend of mine mentioned that she had heard of a vet who would come to your home and do the euthanasia there. After some searching in the local directory I found her: Dr. Kathleen Cooney, of Home to Heaven In-home Euthanasia Services. I know it sounds weird to be excited about euthanasia, but I can't tell you how relieved I was to know that my options-Ody's options-were expanding. Home seemed like just the place.
Home-to-Heaven offers round-the-clock and emergency euthanasia services, 365 days a year. Dr. Cooney is a full-time euthanasia vet. And she and her team of veterinarians are very busy. Home-to-Heaven responds to about 30 requests per week (for an area in northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, maybe a hundred or hundred and fifty square miles). Her practice has been steadily growing since she set up shop a few years ago, as more people become aware of the option of home euthanasia. Dr. Cooney openly embraces death as an outcome, and doesn't see her work as, in any way, dirty; she is very passionate about euthanasia as a gift of release that we offer our animals.
Most of Dr. Cooney's euthanasias take place in a pet's home, which she says is the very best location. She charges between $160 and $250, depending on how far she has to travel. (This does not include the cost of disposing of the body.) This is no more expensive than the average veterinary office, and much cheaper than an emergency hospital, which can be two or three times as much.
Although home is often the best place, it isn't always. Dr. Cooney told me that some pets feel very defensive and territorial at home, and may be calmer at a vet's office. This is very personal, and will be unique to each animal. Dr. Cooney's basic guideline is this: choose the place where your animal will be the most at peace and least stressed.
Dr. Cooney is also embarking upon an as-yet untried adventure: She has just opened The Euthanasia Center, the first of its kind for animals. It is an alternative to in-home euthanasia, which some people don't like or cannot afford, and an alternative to the veterinary clinic. When you perform euthanasia, she says, you need everything to slow down and be quiet-a state hard to achieve in traditional full-service vet clinic. A scheduled euthanasia can be really disruptive to the flow of the day, and it can be near impossible to create a quiet and peaceful space for the animal and its human family. The Euthanasia Center will be even less expensive than an in-home euthanasia and will make the service financially accessible to a greater range of clients.
Although in-home euthanasia is not for everyone, it is a wonderful option for many pets and their human companions. You can find a directory of in home euthanasia services here.