This is Part 4, Step 1 of our Support Protocols for 14 Common Situations series. The cases described in this series are drawn from everyday scenarios found in general veterinary practice or emergency and specialty practices. Below you’ll find an example of a type of case you’re likely to encounter in practice. This blog’s subject is a case involving client-present euthanasia. Due to the complexity of this situation, this topic has been divided into three separate blogs.
Situation: Client-Present Euthanasia
The Mathews family, including Sarah and Jeff; their 6-year-old son, Jonah; and their 13-year-old cocker spaniel named Buddy, arrive at the hospital. They are all holding on to each other for support. Jonah also is holding a teddy bear. You have been expecting them for their client-present euthanasia visit. You greet them at the door. They are hesitant to follow you into the back. You lead the way to the Client Comfort Room, where everything is set up for the euthanasia. As you invite the family to sit around Buddy, Sarah says she doesn’t know if she can do this. Little Jonah starts crying.
Assessment: What’s Going On Here?
The Mathews family was able to come to a decision about euthanizing Buddy. But they are having a hard time now that the moment has come. Especially since they have planned to come into the room and be present when the procedure takes place. Today, most pet owners want to be with their companion animals when they die. And, most veterinarians graciously accommodate their clients’ wishes. But, like the Mathews family, clients need support at this time. Because the trend toward client-present euthanasia is so strong, it is essential that you develop euthanasia techniques and protocols. These techniques and protocols should take into account not only the physical needs of your animal patients but also the psychological, emotional, and even spiritual needs of your human clients.
Client-Present Euthanasia Appointments Can Create Lasting Bonds
Traditionally, euthanasia procedures were performed in an impersonal, clinical way in order to protect both veterinarians and clients from painful emotions. But, today’s euthanasia procedures are performed with technical skill and sensitivity, respect for clients’ emotional needs, and compassionate support. Today, euthanasia represents one of the best opportunities you have to create a lasting bond with your clients.
Most veterinary practice teams view euthanasia as a professional privilege: a gift that can be bestowed upon dying patients. Many companion animals are euthanized with their human family members in attendance in the context of a respectful and reverent ceremony. This compassionate act requires you to develop a deep understanding of the human-animal bond, the needs of grieving pet owners, and the components of a skilled and sensitive euthanasia technique.
In this modern model of euthanasia, euthanasia methods and possible side effects are thoroughly discussed with clients. Clients are involved in the choices and decisions pertaining to the process as much as possible. Clients are also supported after their pet’s deaths has occurred.
Not all of your clients will want or require a lot of time or attention during their pet’s euthanasia. Some will choose total involvement and orchestrate a fairly complex euthanasia ceremony. Others will choose minimal involvement, opting for only a goodbye hug as they leave their animal with you. However, all clients will appreciate being given the option to be as actively involved as they choose to be in the euthanasia planning process and in the actual procedure.
Plan: Support Protocol for What to Say and Do
Lay the Foundation (Step 1)
Gently introduce the idea of euthanasia as soon as it is a viable medical option and offer it as one of the client’s choices, along with further treatment, palliative and/or veterinary hospice care, and so on. Once the decision is made, clearly explain everything that will happen before, during and after the procedure.
Explain the emotional aspects, as well as the medical details, of the euthanasia procedure. Give clients choices regarding their level of involvement in the death.
- For example, you might say, “Mrs. Mathews, I know Buddy is very important to you and your family. Therefore, I am committed to making his death as meaningful and as positive for you as possible. To decide whether or not you want to be with Buddy when he dies, you need accurate information about how I conduct euthanasia ceremonies. Would you like me to explain the procedures I use now?”
- With the owner’s permission, you can continue with a step-by-step description of the medical details, while painting a comforting picture of how the client can be involved with the pet. For example, you might say, “While I do what I need to accomplish, you can pet or hold Buddy’s head and paws. You can also talk to him, sing softly, or recite a poem or prayer. In addition, you can play music, light a candle, or anything else that helps you. In other words, I want you to do whatever you need to do to feel you have said goodbye to Buddy in the most meaningful way possible.”
Help clients decide where their pet will be euthanized. For instance, if your clinic has a comfort room or outdoor garden area, show it to clients so they have a visual image of the comforting surroundings you can offer. If you have the staff and resources to offer home euthanasia, or if there is a veterinarian in your area who maintains a home euthanasia practice, let clients know about these options as well.
On the day of the scheduled euthanasia appointment, when clients arrive for the euthanasia, don’t leave them to sit in a busy waiting area. Instead, immediately take them to the agreed-upon euthanasia site. Be sure you have structured the environment that has been chosen so that you and your clients will have everything you need to cope with the pet’s euthanasia. Stock tissues, client-support materials, clay pawprint kits, and scissors and small containers for fur clippings. If the euthanasia is to be performed on the floor, spread a large mat or blanket before clients arrive.
Once your clients are settled, deal with logistical matters that have not been settled. This may include signing consent forms, paying for the procedure, and making arrangements for body care. It is best for these details to be taken care of prior to the actual procedure, if possible, or, even better, before the day of the euthanasia appointment. You do not want to be asking clients for payment after they have been present for the death of a beloved pet.
Allow Enough Time – Avoid Rushing the Process
Before procedure, give pet owners the opportunity to spend a short time alone with their companion animal, if they so desire. If clients feel rushed through the euthanasia process, this feeling can negate the other positive aspects of the experience. Be sure not to schedule back-to-back appointments requiring the same room or team members.
That’s it for laying the foundation. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Client-Present Euthanasia: Situational Support Protocols Step 2 and Step 3 blogs for the next steps of the protocol. Coming soon!
Keep up the good work,
World by the Tail, Inc.