It is our policy not to perform euthanasia for dogs or cats in cases of convenience. Moving to a new home, unwillingness to take the time to care for an elderly pet and its special needs, or divorce or death of an owner, for example, are some of the reasons we will reject the option of euthanasia. For this reason, we insist on a complete exam with possible blood work at least 24 hours prior to euthanasia of any animal, so that your pet’s case can be discussed, and a rational, not emotional, decision can be made.
If you have an animal for which euthanasia seems the likely the course of action, and for which we have affirmed your decision, there are several things you should know. First and most important is that we will not let you go through this process alone: we are here for your support and comfort as well as that of your beloved pet. Second, you can feel assured that you and your pet will get all the respect you both deserve, and this includes respect for your pet’s remains after death.
The euthanasia appointment begins with our quiet room. We want your pet’s last moments to be as stress free as possible. In this room we have low lighting, padded floors, and music that has been especially chosen for its calming effects on animals (“Through a Dog’s Ear”). We will happily provide blankets and bedding if need be, however we recommend that you bring your dog’s blanket or bed with you for added comfort. The next step is to sign some papers giving us permission to perform euthanasia and Faithful Companion (see page XX) permission to cremate his/her remains. We highly recommend that you sign these papers and make payment in full prior to the euthanasia appointment itself. People who choose to take care of the paperwork ahead of time find the process just a little bit less stressful.
The Euthanasia Process
The process itself starts with an injection of a sedative, which we do to eliminate stress. Stress is often present, as we know how attuned to our feelings pets can be. Although most of our patients are happy to be here, some are not, and the injection helps to reduce that stress as well. We generally give a combination of three drugs: an opioid, an alpha 2 agonist. and ketamine. The combination of these drugs causes profound sedation and pain relief. There are two possible side effects of these drugs. The first is a possible stinging sensation on injection, but we promise this is brief, and does not occur again throughout the procedure. The second possibility is nausea, especially if there was a meal within the last 90 minutes. Though both situations are possible, neither is common.
The sedative takes effect within one to five minutes. Occasionally we are not satisfied with the degree of sedation, so we’ll give more. Again, this circumstance is rare. Once sedation occurs, many family members prefer to leave, rather than be present at the time of euthanasia itself. This is perfectly OK, because at this point your pet will not know if you are there or not. The reason some choose to leave is that death itself is not always peaceful in appearance. Although the euthanasia drug almost instantly stops the heart and brain activity, lower body functions can continue to go on for several hours; these functions can include breathing with or without vocalization, muscle twitching, urination, and defecation. Additionally, neither the tranquilizer or euthanasia injection will cause the animal’s eyes or mouth to close, which some people find disturbing.
After the sedative is administered, we have about 15 minutes before its effects start to wear off. Therefore,,we ask that you be prepared to stay with your animal no longer than this period once you give the OK for the sedative injection. Obviously, we don’t want to rush this emotional moment for anyone, and you are welcome to take your time with your pet before this. We only ask you to understand that once you tell us to proceed with the sedative, things must happen in a timely manner for the entire procedure to go smoothly.
If you do choose to stay for the second injection that causes euthanasia, that is OK too. You can continue to pet your dog or cat while we find a vein to inject. This can sometimes be difficult in old and debilitated animals. Occasionally we need to clip some fur. On the rare occasion we cannot get a peripheral vein to raise enough for a venipuncture, and we have to resort to an intracardiac injection, which is done through the chest wall. If this should become necessary, we will ask you again if you want to stay for this painless but more visually disturbing injection. We will not release your pet’s remains until we have assured ourselves that he is truly dead by listening for a heart rate, checking something called perfusion, and making sure that all breathing has stopped.
Cremation is performed by a company called Faithful Companion with whom we’ve had a relationship for many years. The owners of this company also have a human crematorium and are very trustworthy and respectful. They offer two cremation options.
Communal cremation is a less expensive alternative. After euthanasia, your pet is placed in a zippered bag designed for the purpose and is clearly identified with our hospital name, your name, and the name of your pet. If you wish to place some small, non-metallic, favorite toy in the bag with your pet, you are welcome to do so. From here the remains are transported by Faithful Companion. Up to 10 pets, depending on size, may be cremated together at the same time. Their ashes are comingled and buried together at a pet cemetery. This burial takes place about once a month, and you can contact Faithful Companion to obtain the plot number, should you wish to visit the cemetery. Communal cremation is irreversible, and you cannot get a portion of the ashes back, as they would contain other pets’ ashes as well. Faithful Companion can be reached at 248-435-5791 or at www.faithfulcompanion.com.
Private cremation is similar except that your pet is placed in a coffin made of heavy cardboard, which is padded on the bottom. After pickup by Faithful Companion, your pet’s remains are placed into a cleaned oven; the cremation is then performed from beginning to end without the presence of any other animals. To control the location and identity of your pet’s ashes throughout this process, Faithful companion attaches to them a metal disk with a unique number, so you can rest assured that you are getting your pet back, and not someone else’s. Faithful Companion will return your ashes to our clinic, or if you prefer, will deliver them to your home at a time of your choosing. If your ashes are returned to Arbor Pointe and they are not picked up within a reasonable amount of time (one to two months) we reserve the right to respectfully dispose of them in a manner of our choosing.
At-home burial is also an option if you prefer to bury your pet and it is legal in the place you reside. Again, your pet will be placed in a zippered and leak-resistant bag for transport by you. We will happily carry your pet out to the car for you if you do not wish to yourself. Please be aware of all the cautions about post-mortem activity mentioned above.