Euthanasia Means “Good Death”

If you are an animal lover, your pet is probably one of your best friends. When that best friend is facing the end, it’s tough to say goodbye.  In this NBC29 Special Report, we look at the difficulty of deciding when it is time to say goodbye and your options afterward.

When animal lovers adopt a pet, they make a commitment to care for them, even when they’re sick and close to death. Most humans will outlive their companions, and the end of life for pets can bring deep grief and raise a load of questions.  When that happens, we humans get very emotional.

When dealing with a pet with a terminal condition, people often have a difficult time deciding whether to euthanize, or when the time is right to end their companion’s suffering.

John Dove has two cats, Krogie and Mocha, and cherishes the friendship he has with them. “I don’t have any children, but if I had children, I don’t think I could love them any more than I love my animals, they’re my kids essentially.”

Dove recently experienced the profound pain of losing an animal when his 12-year-old cat Scamper had a stroke.

“And then all of a sudden, he let out a yelp and I looked around at him and he was hyperventilating very heavily, so it looked like something was really wrong,” he said.

A quick trip to an emergency veterinarian divulged the dilemma a lot of pet owners face. “So at that point I had to make that very painful decision.”

Dr. John Andersen deals with clients who face euthanizing their beloved pet. “We’re in control and there’s a time we just have to make that really hard decision.”

Dr. Andersen is not only a pet owner, he is also a veterinarian in Albemarle County and says he understands the deep human-animal bond. “They’re a best friend, they’re kind of a confidante, they’re an explorer with you, they provide a lot of things.”

Only last year, his dog Kaya died after a prolonged battle with cancer. “When we had our dog, I was not married, just a bachelor. She took me through that and getting married and having kids,” he stated.

After 30 years of practicing in a clinic, Dr. Liz Palmer decided to start a mobile veterinarian service specializing in end of life care for pets.  So when a pet goes from having good and bad days to bad and worse days, she can help with in-home euthanasia.

“When an animal gets very, very old, it can be very stressful to bring them to a clinic. They can get very nervous or confused,” she stated. “I hear an awful lot, that ‘I would prefer my animal to die naturally’…barring a heart attack in their sleep, I think dying naturally is overrated.”

Dr. Andersen says some people have such a tough time letting go, they often put off the inevitable. “If I hear regrets from people, it’s often because people feel like they waited a little bit too long and when they look back, they have this image of their animal suffering.”

After Dove decided to end his cat Scamper’s suffering, he took his buddy’s body to the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA for cremation.

The SPCA offers private cremation for $130.00 and a variety of decorative tins for people to choose.  “You leave your animal in their care and a day or two later, they call you and tell you the ashes are ready,” Dove said.  Dove has Scamper’s picture and tin displayed at his home in memory of his beloved companion.

Paws and Remember is a company that offers everything from jewelry stamped with paw prints, key chains that carry ashes, to tiny caskets.  The Staunton company also provides cremation, most packages start at about $150.00 and go up from there.

But some pet owners can’t afford any extras.  Paws and Remember general manager Todd Dean says “If they don’t want their pet’s cremains back, then we will place them in one of these gardens here.”

The company has above ground crypts and a place where people can visit and leave flowers or pictures of their pets.

Since the death of Kaya, Dr. Andersen has adopted a new playmate for his other dog Boon. She’s an 8-week-old black lab named Ruby.  Dove did the same for his other little cat Krogie. He adopted a playful 3-year-old named Mocha from the SPCA. The new addition to the family gives Krogie a friend, but can never replace Scamper.

When he thinks back on the loss, Dove says “Love your animal as much and as often as you possibly can because you never know. I mean it almost doesn’t seem fair in a way that they don’t live longer than they do.”

For people who are struggling with the decision of whether to end their pet’s suffering, Dr. Andersen says the meaning of the word euthanize might help:  it means “good death”.


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