Mrs. Santos was a very nice Filipino lady, but she was having trouble coming to terms with her dog’s progressive cardiac disease. Rudy was a 13 year old Schnauzer; we had diagnosed him with congestive heart failure 6 months earlier—he had responded well to medical therapy, but had recently begun to “backslide” and we had run out of treatment options.
Twice in the past 10 days, Mrs. Santos had come in with Rudy for his “last trip” to the veterinarian. We had discussed his increasing level of discomfort, constant coughing, poor appetite, and exercise intolerance. Mrs. Santos agreed that humane euthanasia was appropriate, but each time she came with Rudy to the clinic, she couldn’t agree that “this was the day”. She had re-scheduled with me for today.
When they arrived at the hospital, I had my nurse escort them to the exam room and Mrs. Santos signed the required “consent to euthanize” form (again). Meanwhile, I prepared the syringe with the pentobarbital solution and met them in the room. This day, I just asked Mrs. Santos if it was “time”; she said “yes”, and I directed the nurse to settle Rudy on the blanket we had placed on the exam table. We quickly prepped his arm and inserted the needle into his vein . . . I looked up at Mrs. Santos and said “OK”? She nodded to me, and burst into tears; I quickly injected the solution, within seconds Rudy relaxed completely and stopped breathing.
Then, I leaned over and gave Rudy a quick goodbye kiss on his forehead, and told Mrs. Santos that he was no longer suffering at all. She progressed from crying to intermittent “wailing” episodes that echoed throughout the hospital for the next 15-20 minutes as we tried to comfort her. This was a long time ago, I had only been in practice for about 18 months—and was not prepared for this visible, public, response to Mrs. Santos’ loss of her pet.
I tell this story because this is the first time I remember thinking at length about what we now refer to as the “human-animal bond”. There has been a dramatic change in the way many of us view our pets during my 30+ years as a practicing veterinarian. As Dr. Marty Becker has succinctly summed it up– “We humans have had dogs in our lives for thousands of years, and in a single generation they’ve gone from the doghouse to the kitchen to the house to the bedroom to the bed.”
It’s a fact; many of us now view our pets as family members. That change makes my “job”, at times, more difficult because of the emotions involved with periods of pain and illness in our pets . . . . but, mostly, immensely gratifying. You see, when pets are family members, their importance to you the owner/family makes what I do, what we all do in the veterinary field, important also.