A Good Death
Advice for preparing for the end of your pet’s life
Christine Maxfield, V06, a former student director of Cummings School’s Pet Loss Hotline, has offered an in-home euthanasia service since 2012. Here’s what she has learned in her work helping 50 to 60 Massachusetts families a month say goodbye to their ailing pets.
Avoid a crisis. When your pet is diagnosed with terminal cancer, for example, ask your vet about signs of declining quality of life, so you can recognize that it’s time to say goodbye before your pet can’t breathe, walk or eat.
Consider what’s realistic. Many owners hope sick pets will pass away on their own, without suffering, but that’s pretty rare. Because pets hide symptoms and signs of disease so well that we often don’t fully grasp the extent of most illnesses, the end stages of which can be very painful to witness.
Find peace of mind. Uncertainty over a diagnosis, treatment plan or recommended testing can cause a lot of angst over whether to euthanize. As long as your pet is comfortable and receiving treatment for pain, take the time to seek a second opinion so you have confidence in your decision.
Make a plan. Find a vet who can offer an appointment that accommodates all family members who wish to be present. Discuss the steps in the procedure, including options for burial or cremation.
Involve your kids. Honesty and openness are the best way to approach pet euthanasia with a child. Explain as clearly as possible what is going to happen and give your child the opportunity to say goodbye to the pet. Avoid saying an animal is “going to sleep.” Never lie and say the pet went to live elsewhere or ran away. If your child asks to be present for euthanasia, you should probably allow it.
Cummings School’s Pet Loss Support Hotline (508.839.7966) provides guidance on euthanasia. Veterinary students, trained by a licensed psychologist, are available Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.