The hardest part about being a pet parent is being there during a fur baby’s dying moments. The Hillcrest Veterinary Hospital in South Africa understands, but its staff also has a message for animal lovers: Don’t leave them when they’re dying.
The animal hospital recently posted an impassioned letter from an anonymous veterinarian begging pet owners to stay in the room during euthanasia. Well-cared-for pets who live to old age are often suffering in their final days, and putting them down in a painless and peaceful manner is typically the best, most humane option. However, many loving pet parents find it difficult to watch their babies go.
This totally makes sense, but this anonymous vet makes a compelling argument for staying with them as they pass on. Whoever this vet is has seen too many animals search the room for their owners, scared and confused — and those are the last things they feel before they die.
The vet wrote, “The thing you people need to know that most of you don’t is that THEY SEARCH FOR YOU WHEN YOU LEAVE THEM BEHIND!!!!”
Those are the exclamation points of a person who has seen too many scared animals die alone.
“You have been the center of their world for THEIR ENTIRE LIVES!!!!” the vet wrote. “They may just be a part of yours but all they know is you as their family.”
Well, we’re already crying, but please, go on.
The vet makes an attempt to be understanding, acknowledging that it’s not easy and in fact can be “devastating.” But it’s worse for the dying animal if you’re not there.
“Do not make them transition from life to death in a room of strangers in a place they don’t like,” the vet wrote.
It soon becomes clear why this vet felt compelled to write this letter.
“They search every face in the room for their loved person,” the vet explained. “They don’t understand why you left them when they are sick, scared, old, or dying from cancer and they need your comfort.”
The letter is signed, “From a tired broken-hearted vet.”
It cannot be an easy job having to put down so many frightened animals.
If you weren’t already crying, the responses to the letter make everything worse.
“My husband and I stood by our dogs, stroking them and talking to them until the end,” wrote Carol Dreyer. “It was painful, but their total loyalty and love, deserved that at the very least.”
“From someone who has had to say goodbye to a couple of wonderful little dogs, I couldn’t agree more,” wrote Jennifer Obermeyer. “I stayed and held them and bawled my eyes out, but I would never ever have left them to have their last moment on this earth, with a bunch of strangers, albeit caring ones.”
There are over 5,200 comments on the post by Hillcrest, and countless more on the over 101,000 shares. Most have been supportive, though some people felt that the post was being too hard on pet parents.
“How could you make people feel guilty like this,” asked MaryAnn Madore-Shatraw. “I am a vet tech and when this so very difficult decision comes along it is part of my job, not only to help the pet move smoothly through the procedure, but also to help the owners feel comforted in this time.”
It’s all a matter of perspective, but it might change some people’s minds to know that their pets would be looking for them in their final moments. One individual on Twitter claimed that 90% of owners don’t want to be in the room during euthanasia.
“Asked my vet what the hardest part was about his job & he said when he has to put an animal down 90% of owners don’t actually want to be in the room when he injects them so the animal’s last moments are usually them frantically looking around for their owners,” said @jessi_dietrich. “That broke me.”
Others who left their pet to be euthanized now regret their decision.
“I will never forgive myself for doing it,” wrote Judy Mayo. “I can still see his little face looking at me. If I ever have to do it again I will stay and hold and love them until they are gone.”
Then there are the people who are just determined to make us cry.
“The reason why dogs and cats don’t need to live as long as we do, is because they know how to love… when they are borne [sic], and are given to us to learn how to love, and for some people it takes much longer to learn,” wrote William Letcher. “Love them to the end!”
If you don’t think you can handle watching your pet die, you might want to consider fostering. Of course, fostering an animal often ends with you falling in love and adopting the pet anyway.
There’s no winning. Just crying.