It’s always hard to give bad news, but sometimes it’s harder than others. Today I had two old patients with kidney failure. Everybody’s pets are special to them, and saying goodbye is never easy, but today…
The first one was a cat whose kidneys were so large and misshapen that I could feel them like a couple of tennis balls when I picked him up. When I mentioned this to the owner, she simply replied, "You’re going to fix him. This is my boy." Pretty clear instructions. Unfortunately, his ultrasound and lab-work make it pretty clear that we are not going to fix him. We may make him feel better for a while, but with both kidneys cancerous, we’re not going to fix him. His time is short.
The second patient was a dog whose mama did not need another loss this year. After major emergency surgery on herself, she lost her father in the winter. In the spring she lost her adult son to an industrial accident. There’s no question that she cares about her dog and would not wish to confront it’s passing, but this latest link on her chain of losses was a cruel blow indeed.
We all suffer losses and deal with it as best we may, packing the experience away in our emotional garbage bag. We put them behind us, but we don’t totally get rid of the experience. Each similar loss forges a new link on the chain, and in the process pulls the whole chain of losses out to wrap around your neck. When we confront the impending loss of a pet, it is not uncommon to have to do so through the haze of a lifetime’s sadnesses: all the griefs of lost loved ones, animals and people, from our last dog to grandma. Usually it’s not so obvious as it was with my poor client today, but it is an undercurrent that runs through every euthanasia I have to perform. I have to recognize that and acknowledge it.
Clients frequently say they are "ashamed to feel this way about a dog". Not only must they deal with their grief, but they feel as though they are abnormal into the bargain. "I’ll never have another pet. I can’t stand this again." Again, I have to acknowledge their feelings, but also let them know that they are not abnormal, and far from alone in their feelings.
Those who can feel no loss cannot feel anything. As hard as these bereavements are, who would wish for a life where he cared so little for anything that he could not feel a loss? So we go on, and open our hearts again when the time is right.