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Saying goodbye

Telephone Help-line

The hardest thing a pet owner has to do is to ask to have their pet put to sleep. I think that the most important part of a vet's job is to help owners with the loss of their pet.

Your pet may die at home: most people hope (s)he will just drift off in his/her sleep but this is not common. Natural death is often distressing to the animal and I am sure that an injection of an overdose of anaesthetic is almost unnoticed by most animals. But it does mean having to decide to do it. Making the decision is mentioned in the section about assessing quality of life.

So, often we have to put animals to sleep. Mostly we do this at the surgery as it is easier to do with the help of a nurse in a well lit room. Occasionally I put animals to sleep in their homes. In principle, from the owners' and pet's point of view I might always do so, but it is often not easy to arrange.

We always try to arrange that, if we know we will be putting a pet to sleep there will not be any other pets and owners in the waiting room, but that is not always possible. We know that the owners will be upset. Many will apologise: there is no need. Many owners want to stay with their pet: this is only a problem if the pet is difficult to handle, but we will usually sedate it if that it the case. We always try to allow enough time for owners to have a few minutes with their pet after it has been put to sleep, but sometimes there are other people waiting and this may have to be quite short.

Most owners leave their pets, though some wish to take them home for burial. Our attitude is that the owner's needs in this respect are personal and we can currently allow that, though there are rumours that the law may be strengthened to prevent it. Most pets, however, are cremated, and there is now a pet burial site available.

We always suggest that owners should do something at home as a private memorial for their pet. Most feel that putting a plant in the garden is helpful. I feel that to bury something belonging to the pet helps to make it special, and to write a message and bury it under the plant can be an effective way to express the importance of the occasion. I would always encourage the whole family to be involved, even children who grew up with the pet and have moved away often wish to send a message to be placed under the plant.

Afterwards people vary in how well they can process their loss. It isn't a matter of forgetting or replacing the pet, but a letting go of the relationship and allowing the memories to lose their sadness. This takes time and only the ones involved know how long. Do remember that we are always willing to talk to you if you are finding it difficult to let go of the feelings of loss. The staff are very aware of how you may feel and can talk to you, or we can put you in touch with special helpers.

I often hear of people offering advice regarding how soon to get another pet. I feel that only the bereaved owners can know when it is right. Some need to get a new pet right away, others cannot do that. It is very personal.

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The Society for Companion Animal Studies offers a Befriender Service with a help-line number you can call if you need to talk about your loss. This link will give you details

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