April 02, 2001
Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer
It was time to let
The 15-year-old black lab-German shepherd mix was severely
crippled with spinal arthritis, needed help just to get to his feet.
And as painful as the decision was to make, owner Valerie Griffin
knew it needed to be done.
While many clinics
do their best to make the experience as gentle as possible, some
owners opt for a different approach—euthanasia in the
But she didn’t want Butch’s last moments to be at the
veterinarian’s office—his last memory to be of slick floors that
make walking difficult, medicinal smells, the cries of other
"I thought he didn’t deserve that," she said. "He deserved to die
So she called her veterinarian, Dr. Maria Chadham, in San Pedro,
Calif., and asked if that would be possible. Dr. Chadham said
The decision to euthanize a pet is one of the most painful ones
an owner can make. While many clinics do their best to make the
experience as gentle as possible, some owners opt for a different
approach—euthanasia in the home.
Rebecca Emmett’s pointer, Toby, was terrified of the
veterinarian’s office. "He’d just shake all over—he’d have a hard
time standing up at the vet’s."
So she took to having him treated at home, by a mobile
When the time came, the veterinarian, Dr. Linda Ryder of
Companion Animal House Calls, Richmond, Va., first gave Toby a
tranquilizer. The family gathered around, watched until he began to
wobble, then coaxed him over to his soft bed by the fireplace. The
dog lay down, and they stroked him as the veterinarian gave the
final injection. "He just put his head down and it looked like he
went to sleep," Ms. Emmett recalled.
Dr. Ryder performs about one in-home euthanasia a week. Many of
the clients are people she’s never seen before, people who call
specifically for this service.
The reasons vary, she said. Sometimes it’s a pet that has trouble
moving—one too big for the owner to lift. Sometimes it’s a small
pet, like a cat, that’s terrified of the car, and the owner doesn’t
want that additional guilt of knowing the pet was afraid.
It’s anguishing to
make the decision to euthanize, so people want to know they did the
best they could. "They want closure, and they want it peaceful,"
said Dr. Paul-Michael Turkal.
Jennifer Floyd of Jamul, Calif., has had several pets
euthanized at home to avoid jolting their already pained bodies
along the rough road to the veterinarian’s office. "The dog’s taking
a nap on a patch of grass in the backyard, I talk to the dog, give
him a biscuit, the vet slips in the needle and it’s all over," she
said. "It just seems like a quieter, more respectful way to go about
It’s anguishing to make the decision to euthanize, so people want
to know they did the best they could. "They want closure, and they
want it peaceful," said Dr. Paul-Michael Turkal of Home Veterinary
Service, Clinton Township, Mich. "There’s no dogs barking in the
distance, they can express their emotions as a family and not worry
about what people think."
In-home euthanasia generally involves a minimum of three to four
family members, he said. He’s seen as many as 20 to 30 people gather
around to say goodbye. Families will have children come home from
college; relatives come in from around the area.
It tends to be a planned event. In contrast, people who bring
their pets into Dr. Turkal’s office at the Animal Medical Surgical
and Critical Care Center have generally made a spontaneous
decision—they’ve come to the conclusion that the pet can’t go on in
pain, and they need to end it now. "Instead of letting it weigh on
their mind, they want it done then and there."
Veterinarians said they find in-home euthanasia tends to be
gentler psychologically on the family, though performing it poses
additional complications. There’s no staff to back up the
veterinarian, and the animals can be more aggressive on their own
turf—so many will give the pet a sedative before injecting the
It’s important to move slowly and explain to the family exactly
what’s happening, because they are more emotional than they’ll let
themselves be at the veterinarian’s office, Dr. Turkal said. "People
think of this as pain, and you have to explain every vocalization,
For instance, the Nordic breeds will invariably howl when
euthanized. Dr. Turkal doesn’t know why, but it’s important to
prepare the family for that in advance. He also makes sure to give a
double dose of the euthanasia solution. "It’s the end stage. Why
When the veterinarian showed up at Ms. Griffin’s door on an
October afternoon, Butch knew something was up, but he didn’t seem
disturbed. There was no struggling. Ms. Griffin’s husband and mother
were there too, to tell the dog goodbye.
"I felt that doing
it at home would be a spiritual experience rather than a death
experience," Ms. Griffin said. "I felt he had a perfect life from
birth to old age. I just wanted him to have the perfect way
Ms. Griffin lay with him on his bed in the living
room, holding him close as the veterinarian slid the needle in.
Butch cried out once, then closed his eyes and it was over.
People have asked her if it wasn’t more painful, having Butch
euthanized at home. It wasn’t, she said—it was the best way she
could have handled it.
"I felt that doing it at home would be a spiritual experience
rather than a death experience," she said. "I felt he had a perfect
life from birth to old age. I just wanted him to have the perfect
For more information:
What to Expect When Your Pet’s Time Has Come
"Letting go" can be a wrenching experience for pet owners. For
information on pet grief counseling, read these VetCentric
"Dealing With the Death of a Pet, Part 1: Pet Cemetery" and "Dealing
with the Death of a Pet, Part 2: Grief Counseling." Both these
articles contain links to pet grief counseling services.